Phill Wilson is an internationally-renowned Black AIDS/HIV activist and founder of the nation’s only HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on the needs of the Black community.
Wilson was living in Chicago with his partner Chris Brownlie in 1981 when both began experiencing swelling in their lymph nodes. Wilson found out he was HIV-positive at a time when such a diagnosis was effectively a death sentence, and watched many of his friends die of the disease in those early years of the epidemic.
Wilson relocated with Brownlie to Los Angeles in 1982, where he got involved in the National Association of Black and White Men Together, Inc.: A Gay Multiracial Organization for All People (NABWMT). In the years that followed he would serve as AIDS coordinator for the City of Los Angeles and as director of policy and planning at AIDS Project Los Angeles.
Chris Brownlie died of AIDS-related illness in 1989, and Wilson channeled his grief into advocacy. Wilson had always been troubled by the fact that AIDS outreach was largely targeted toward white men, although the Black community was affected much more by the disease. He founded the Black AIDS Institute to engage and mobilize Black institutions and individuals to confront HIV.
“I came to understand that the only way to save my life and the lives of those I love was to fight,” said Wilson, “to fight the disease, to fight all the ‘isms,’ to fight the stigma, to fight an uncaring government, to fight an ignorant public, to fight an inadequate health care system, and to fight my own fears of inadequacy.”
Wilson was diagnosed with AIDS in 1990, and nearly died in 1995, but he was able to recover thanks to new antiretroviral drugs. In 2018 he stepped down as president and CEO of BAI after nearly 20 years of service.
“I used to say that I didn’t believe that I would live to see the end of this epidemic,” reflected Wilson. “I don’t say that anymore.”