Positive Pride: CDC Supports Cleo Manago’s AmASSI Self-Esteem Programs in Fight Against HIV

By: Gay.com

After over 20 years of Cleo Manago’s work to combat HIV with self-esteem, the CDC validates his AmASSI Center with support of $350,000 a year for five years to implement his successful health models.

Founder of the AmASSI (African-American Advocacy, Support-Services, and Survival Institute) Centers for Wellness, Education, and Culture, 47-year-old Manago has devoted decades to fighting HIV/AIDS and internalized racism among African-Americans and homophobia among same-sex-loving black men.

Since the first center opened its Inglewood, California doors in 1989, Mangago has helped thousands of people and with the support of these grants, can potentially reach countless more.

Manago prefers the “term same-gender loving as opposed to gay,” and that very distinct difference in perception is precisely why he founded the organization.

“When this disease began to get federal funding and foundation support, it occurred inside a white gay identity vacuum,” he explained to HIV Plus magazine. “There was a need for more inclusion of men at risk who go to prison, who are bisexual, who sleep with men but don’t identify as gay.”

“They’re cultural centers as opposed to health centers,” Manago says, adding that the centers resources go beyond testing, treatment, and drug adherence. Their substance abuse prevention programs, art shows, and physical fitness and self-defense are open to men and women.

“When it comes to primary prevention, HIV centers don’t work because people won’t access them until they have a crisis or are symptomatic.”

LowdownOnDL In an effort to understand the center’s patients and at risk potentials, Manago questioned a group of black men who had sex with men at his Inglewood center in 1994. The results told Manago that although the men understood what caused and transmitted AIDS, they still practiced unsafe sex.

“A lot of these men had questionable value for their sexuality and their [African-American] community,” Manago explains. “It was that lack of value that fed into their inability to be consistent with reducing their HIV risk.”

To properly address the cultural disconnect afflicting these high-risk males, Manago engineered a method called Critical Thinking and Cultural Affirmation to help black men who have sex with men unlearn some stereotypical and dangerous myths. Through counseling and workshops, the men learn the accomplished history of African-Americans, to value critical thinking and self-respect, identify false depictions of black men in media, and how to practice safer sex.

“[The CDC] saw its promise and decided to take it through the evaluation process with a control group to show its efficacy,” Manago shared, with a $2-million, five-year formal study of Manago’s CTCA model at the City University of New York, on behalf of member campus Hunter College. Pending effective results, the CTCA model could make it’s way into the CDC’s influential Compendium of Evidence-Based HIV Prevention Interventions.

AmASSI now has US centers in Inglewood, Oakland, Atlanta, and Harlem, and initiatives in Baltimore and Johannesburg, South Africa.

Read more about Manago’s innovative and important programs like the AmASSI Center’s MAGIC (Mobilizing Against Growing Incidences of Communicable Disease) Black Leadership Initiative and Black Men’s Xchange in the full article on HIVPlusMag.com now.