Making a Difference in the Fight Against AIDS
Paul Kawata, class of 1979, College of the Pacific
Distinguished Alumni Award for Public Service
Paul Kawata grew up in Seattle, Washington, and he came to Pacific on a debating scholarship. Paul was a member of Alpha Kappa Lambda Fraternity and says, “AKL helped me to understand what it meant to be a man in the larger world, to work collectively with others and to develop loyalties and friendships.”
He also credits Pacific’s Cowell Wellness Center for changing his life through the group therapy he attended there. “They helped me come out,” he says “when I didn’t know what that was. I learned to be brave from people I met at Pacific.”
Paul graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Pacific and went on to University of Washington Dental School but left after just one year to help fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1985 and directed the National AIDS Network from 1985 to 1989.
Paul went on to found the National Minority AIDS Council, and he has been the Executive Director since 1989. The Council was formed after the American Public Health Association meeting that year held its first ever plenary on AIDS and no people of color were included on its panel. In response, leaders from communities of color came together to highlight the unique challenges the epidemic posed for minority communities.
Under Paul’s guidance, the National Minority Aids Council has become a powerful voice for over 3,000 HIV/AIDS organizations nationwide.
With Paul’s leadership, the National Minority AIDS Council implemented the first HIV treatment education programs in the U.S. and developed the U.S. Conference on AIDS, the largest annual AIDS-related gathering in the country. He has also helped pass significant congressional legislation, including successful passage and renewal of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act and the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS Act.
Paul also developed the HIV Prevention Leadership Summit and originated the first international HIV/AIDS conference in South Africa.
He has received numerous awards recognizing his leadership in the field of AIDS advocacy, including both the Surgeon General’s award and the ATR Wellness Project Leadership Award.
Recently, Paul has led the National Minority Aids Council in adjusting its mission focus from “addressing the challenges of HIV/AIDS” to “ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” The Declaration to End HIV/AIDS was developed by NMAC and presented during the 16th Annual U.S. Conference on AIDS in September 2012, with basketball star and AIDS activist Magic Johnson and television personality Wendy Williams joining others in signing this commitment to end the AIDS epidemic.
Paul says that what he loves about his work is that it can literally change the world. There are 30 million cases of AIDS worldwide, including about 1.2 million people living with AIDS in the United States, and Paul says that a variety of new developments, including biomedical interventions, vaccine and cure research, and Federal initiatives like the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, all offer real hope and make this an exciting and important time to be an advocate in this field.