AAHU Fellow Jaasiel Chapman: Trust the Process and Finish the Course

Jaasiel Chapman of BTAN Cincinnati

One in a series about recent graduates of the African American HIV University (AAHU).

After a number of friends passed away from AIDS, Jaasiel Chapman—a gospel-music artist who had a contract with Sony Music—decided to switch careers to HIV advocacy.

"One friend in particular did not have much familial support and just gave up after fighting with his insurance company to pay for the medication," he says. "So I made a promise that when the opportunity came about, I was going to take it and do my part in helping to end AIDS in the Black community."

While still a University of Cincinnati music major, Chapman, now 33, researched local agencies and found IV-CHARIS (pronounced "4-kurees"), the only minority-run HIV/AIDS nonprofit in Cincinnati offering testing, education and linkage to care. There he volunteered while learning more about the virus as well as testing and counseling methods.

In 2014 the organization hired Chapman as community educator, going to jails, rehab institutions, halfway houses and colleges to offer testing, increase awareness about HIV and other STDs, and link people who tested positive to appropriate care and treatment. But he needed specialized HIV training to better serve the community. So Mamie Harris, the director of IV-CHARIS and an AAHU Fellow, encouraged Chapman to attend AAHU's Science and Treatment College.

"I can't say enough about how great the AAHU experience was. Being able to learn the science of the virus, how it works, what medications attack the different parts of the life cycle, has given me a better understanding of how to educate the public, particularly around PrEP," he says.

In April 2016 Chapman, in conjunction with IV-CHARIS, the Black AIDS Institute and the Cincinnati Health Department, hosted a PrEP Summit.

"This was a very timely event because of the crippling heroin epidemic Cincinnati is currently facing," says Chapman, who believes that the lack of awareness of PrEP could lead to an increase in HIV cases.

"There was even a doctor there who had never heard of PrEP," he says. "A Black physician who has a lot of Black patients who are at risk of contracting the virus, and he'd never heard of PrEP. Now he's able to share that information with his patients."

Chapman also recalls imparting information about PrEP to a group of professional men at a birthday party. He recalls: "I asked if I could come in and talk about PrEP. I thought some of them would be interested in knowing about protecting themselves, their wives and/or significant others."

Recently Chapman was hired as the clinical-research community educator at the University of Cincinnati, which had recently been named a site for HPTN 083, a five-year study of the injectable form of PrEP. Carl Fichtenbaum, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and principal investigator for the study, had met Chapman at the PrEP Summit and contacted him about doing community outreach.

"Prior to AAHU, protease, integrase, reverse transcriptase, were concepts that I really didn't understand," Chapman says. "With this study being an integrated inhibitor, that experience was so invaluable."

Currently, Chapman is recruiting participants for HPTN 083,which will consist of 200 men: 100 Black MSM under age 30, 20 transgender women who have sex with men and 80 individuals assigned male gender at birth who have sex with men.

As he reflects on how his experience at AAHU prepared him for this work, Chapman advises prospective Fellows to be ready to work hard. "It's gonna be hard, but you can do it," he says. "Something they always told us was 'trust the process.' And if you trust the process, you will be so glad that you went and finished the course."

Metro-Cincinnati residents interested in participating in the HPTN 083 study can contact Chapman directly at 513-584-6279 or check out the study's Facebook page here.

April Eugene is a Philadelphia-based writer.