Friday, August 13, 2010

People Who Make Things Work 2

Earl Pike Photo by AIDS Task Force Staff Kathie McClure

Earl Pike of the AIDS Task Force

By now you have heard that Earl Pike is no longer the director of the AIDS Task Force. I received his Facebook posting explaining his decision to move on, and he said that had been thinking about a move for sometime. This may be true, but it seems to me that if this was a planned move by the agency the statement would be more like, "At the end of this month, Earl Pike will be leaving the AIDS Task Force, and Tracy Jones will take the position of interim executive director," or something like that. But it does not matter, those are the often strange inner-workings of non-profit organizations that we will probably never hear the real story.

This series of posts reflects on people in Ohio who make government work. These are the people who are doing jobs that government should be doing or individuals who make local or state government work properly. As Director of the AIDS Task Force, Earl Pike worked to serve those with HIV/AIDS for the last 25 years, basically, since the beginning of the crisis. He is one of the deep thinkers in our community, and we all felt confident that with Pike in charge we had a chance of solving the problem. Coming up with solutions to providing the best services to people with AIDS is not the same talent as fund raising, human resources, and completing government grants in order to run a non-profit organization. Implementing a solution to a crisis is also not the same as media relations, interaction with politicians, and schmoozing with donors as required when leading a non-profit organization. But Earl Pike is always thinking about the population that he served, and how to improve their quality of life.

There are tons of people who say that government should be cut, and that once government gets involved everything will cost more and all we typically get is WFA (waste, fraud, and abuse). When I heard that Earl Pike had left the AIDS Task Force, I thought about how much has changed with regard to people suffering with AIDS during the time he dedicated to this issue. It is a testament to the power our government has to impact people's lives. In 1985, Ronald Reagan starts his second term in office, blood begins being tested for those donating blood to prevent the spread of AIDS, Back to the Future is the king of the box office, and New Coke is introduced. People that receive word that they have HIV consider it a death sentence, and agencies are constructed to act as hospice care centers to the dying. Government put a disproportionate amount of money into the problem compared to other killer diseases of heart disease, cancer, or respiratory diseases. We the people poured money into this new disease and improved the quality of life for millions throughout the world. What is the price of 20 to 30 extra years of life for millions? I have to think that it was worth it, and I am proud that I paid my taxes. This was a disease like none other seen by modern man that was spread by the exchange of bodily fluids. We put lots of money toward this problem and our best minds with tremendous results. Next time someone criticizes the wasteful government spending just ask them about HIV/AIDS.

I worked with Pike on various health care related boards and some homeless assistance projects, and look forward to some other bigger projects in the future. The last time we collaborated was when a truck ran over a homeless man in front of the AIDS Task Force building. Earl offered his space for a memorial for the man since the family was not big on going into a church. It was a nice way to remember Symeon Hurt who was trying to get his life together.

So, Earl Pike is moving on to a new problem or a broader look at the issue of sexual health and disparity issues. We can only hope that he will have as much success in his new endeavors as he had with the AIDS problem. Please do not think that I am saying that the AIDS crisis is done or over or that we can rest on the success that advocates such as Earl Pike have fought to achieve. All I am saying that if America sets it mind to something (getting to the moon, keeping HIV positive people alive, and keeping the elderly from living in extreme poverty when they retire) we do a pretty good job. We need more people like Earl Pike to put their talents and life to working to solve problems and we could finally solve homelessness, obesity, mental illness that disrupts a person's life, and eventually poverty.

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