HIV/AIDS Adovcate: Cynthia Callahan

May 2, 2009

From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011

Entrant: S. Omowale Fowles

Nominee: Cynthia Callahan Davis, Director of HIV Education and Outreach Programs

Mrs. Cynthia Callahan Davis, M.P.H. (UCLA) has been one of the key Health care professionals engaged in the fight to save the people of Los Angeles County, especially women, from the tragic effects of the HIV/AIDS virus. As the Director of HIV Education and Outreach Programs at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles since the late 1980’s, Mrs. Davis has raised money for local community education activities, special programs and training seminars.

She has raised the awareness of local and national communities about the threat of HIV/AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent them, while dispelling myths and misinformation about the virus and its consequences. Through her indefatigable efforts, she has raised the level of commitment of health care and non-health care activists to join this struggle.

In the Los Angeles Times article, “Soft Side of AIDS War” (25 December, 2008, The Region section), she has been recognized for her efforts to expand the struggle for women’s health and well-being from the Los Angeles metropolitan area in which Drew University is located to the world stage.

This shift started in the early 1990’s when she presented papers at two international conferences: the Women’s – AIDS Conference, held in Uganda in 1992; and the Fourth World Conference on Women, sponsored by the United Nations, which was held in Beijing in 1996.  Although her work was the subject of another article, entitled “On the Frontline of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic:…” in Black Issues in Higher Education (24 March, 2005), for the most part, Assistant Professor Davis has toiled, lectured and traveled for decades in quiet, yet effective, anonymity.

She has elevated the HIV/AIDS education, information distribution and fund-raising struggle from the national to the global community of women through the development of her “Dolls of Hope” project: cloth dolls that are hand-made by women in AIDS awareness groups around the world.  These and other hand-crafted items are often exchanged and sold to generate funds for “Dolls …” projects and education programs.

She has stretched the positive influences of the 1960’s African American saying “each one, teach one” and the empowering impact that it has had on young women– especially Black and Latina adolescents from South Central/Central metropolitan Los Angeles and Compton — to include women of all ages from Birmingham and Brooklyn, from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Cape Town, South Africa to South East Asia and Central America.

Cynthia Davis is a loving wife and mother of one daughter. Her boundless energy, creative vision and dedication to the health of humanity, especially women’s health, began long before we met as classmates in the School of Public Health at UCLA. Even then, she shared with, and cared about, her husband, and later their new baby girl, as well as her fellow classmates and her community. She would make all manner of deliciously prepared ethnic dishes “just for the occasion” when our Multi-Cultural Student Association held potlucks and holiday parties. No matter what event occurred, she usually managed to introduce into the festivities some new nugget about a health issue that concerned women.

Yet, whether she was cooking, doing statistics homework, planning a research presentation, or conducting a seminar,  Mrs. Cynthia Callahan Davis has always expemplified the best in practical, clear-eyed love of justice, humane gentility and friendship. She is my nominee for the Women’s Health Heroes Award from the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.

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