Wake Forest University School of Divinity has announced a $5 million grant that will establish a new center to address HIV/AIDS throughout the South.
The grant from Gilead Sciences will bring Wake Forest into Gilead’s 10-year, $100 million COMPASS Initiative that already includes centers at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, and the Southern AIDS Coalition.
The Faith Coordinating Center will specifically engage faith communities and nonprofits in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
A university news release said this will include the needs of vulnerable populations such as rural communities in Appalachia, African Americans, and LGBTQ individuals. “These groups, particularly in the South, often experience a higher number of cases of HIV/AIDS with access to fewer support and prevention resources,” the release said.
Wake Forest leaders said their work will be guided by a focus on social justice and equity.
“At Wake Forest University School of Divinity, we shape agents of justice, reconciliation and compassion,” said Dean Jonathan Lee Walton. “Our origins are rooted in preparing a place for those often marginalized and left out of not only conversations, but congregations. This new center will help us put that mission into needed action in communities across our region.”
Brett Pletcher, executive vice president at Gilead Sciences, commended Wake Forest for its “academic rigor, implementation expertise and passion required to advance this important work.”
The Faith Coordinating Center will use a social justice framework, interfaith engagement and advocacy for LGBTQ communities in this work with a goal of equipping faith communities to respond to the needs of those impacted by HIV/AIDS.
One planned program will work with clergy and faith leaders to build collaborative knowledge, capacity and expertise related to faith and HIV/AIDS.
Allison Mathews has been named executive director of the Faith Coordinating Center. She previously served as associate director for integrating special populations in the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest Baptist Health.
Matthews is a business entrepreneur with experience addressing issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and religiosity, and access to health care for underserved populations. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Howard University, a master of arts degree and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also has completed postdoctoral work at UNC Chapel Hill’s Department of Social Medicine and the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease.
Shonda Jones has been named principal investigator for the center. She has worked in theological education for 20 years and has worked in the HIV/AIDS arena as an employee and board member in several organizations.
She teaches in the area of intercultural competency for ministry and leadership, is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, a certified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory, and a trainer for intercultural competency and relationship-building. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English and religious studies from Texas Christian University, a master of divinity degree from TCU’s Brite Divinity School, and doctor of education degree from the University of Alabama.
Wake Forest School of Divinity was selected for the grant through a national, competitive application process. The three-year grant runs through 2023.