LONELY PLANET Panel: Reflections of those who served during the AIDS epidemic

blackbox theater
Wednesday, February 28th at 7:30pm
LONELY PLANET Panel: Reflections of those who served during the AIDS epidemic
Wednesday, February 28th at 7:30pm
BlackBox Theatre | Mosesian Center for the Arts
Email symposium@newrep.org to reserve your complimentary spot!

Rebecca Haag (moderator), former CEO of the AIDS Action Committee of MA
Rev. Dr. Michael Paul Melendez, Professor of Social Work at Salem State University
Virginia Anderson, Assistant Professor of Theater, Connecticut College
Chris Richards, National Director Immunology Nurse Educators
Kenneth H. Mayer, M.D.,  Medical Research Director of The Fenway Institute

Rebecca Haag was the CEO of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc. (AAC), for 11 years.  Her tenure ended when AAC merged with the Fenway Community Health Center in 2013.  For fours of those years she also served as Executive Director of DC-based AIDS Action and led a national group of advocates and experts who secured a National HIV/AIDS Strategy in the first year of President Obama’s tenure.

Rebecca merged the AIDS Action in DC with the National AIDS Fund to create AIDS United, the largest national HIV organization advocating for sound HIV policy and programs.  After leaving her full time role in HIV, Rebecca has continued to consult and provide technical assistance and strategic planning to local ASOs around the country.

Haag has more than 30 years of experience in nonprofit management, business and government, and a track record of successfully growing the organizations that she has managed.  She has served on numerous Boards and is currently a Trustee of Eastern Bank, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society and Island Health Care, the only FQHC center on Martha’s Vineyard.

She is a magna cum laude graduate of Wells College, received her MBA from Boston University and an honorary PhD from Simmons College in Human Services.  She currently lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her wife Mary Breslauer.  Rebecca has been the Executive Director of the Island Grown Initiative since 2016.  The organization’s mission is to help build and sustain an equitable food system on Martha’s Vineyard. (www.igimv.org)


Rev. Dr. Michael Paul Melendez is Professor of Social Work at Salem State University. He is the former associate bureau director of the Bureau of Addictions for the Boston Public Boston Public Health Commission and former Professor of Social Work at Simmons College. Dr. Melendez has been a long standing AIDS Activist since 1985 having served on the boards of AIDS Action Committee, the Latino Health Institute and the Women of Color AIDS Council, United Ways AIDS task force for location. He is the receipt of the 25 Years/25 People- Honoree Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the “From All Walks” AIDS Walk 2010. Greatest Contribution to Social Work Education MA Chapter 2006, The AIDS Action Spirit Award, 2000 and the Elizabeth Ramos AIDS Activist Award. Finally he is an ordained deacon for the Episcopal Dioceses of Massachusetts.


Virginia Anderson is an Assistant Professor of Theater at Connecticut College where she teaches a variety of courses concerning theatre and culture, directs for the main stage, and serves on the steering committee for the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy. She earned her Ph.D. in Drama from Tufts University, an MA in Performance and Culture from Goldsmiths College, University of London, an MA in Drama from Stanford University, and a BA in English and Theatre from Carleton College. Her dedication to advocacy and the arts has been recognized by the National Center for HIV, STD, & TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) as well as AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. Her essay “Performing Interventions: The Politics and Theatre of China’s AIDS Crisis in the Early Twenty-First Century” appears in the newly released Viral Dramaturgies: HIV and AIDS in Performance in the Twenty-First Century (Palgrave, February 2018). Her current book project concerns the on- and off-stage history of Broadway theatre and the AIDS epidemic.


Chris Richards graduated from nursing school in 1985 and began her professional career on a medical unit at a teaching hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas. While the majority of patients she cared for had some form of cancer, there was a growing number of HIV-AIDS patients admitted to her unit. There was an undeniable tension growing as some of her colleagues didn’t want to care for “those patients”. Chris welcomed the opportunity to care for these individuals as she was intrigued by the science and felt emotionally connected….little did she know that caring for these men helped her come to terms with her own sexuality.

Chris went on to serve as a co-leader for a RAIN [Regional AIDS Interfaith Network] care team. This was a church based team provided services for end of life AIDS patients.


Kenneth Mayer’s clinical research career has focused on the natural history and transmission of HIV in the US and in Asia, having developed some of the first cohort studies and prevention interventions dealing with the AIDS epidemic. He has co-authored over 800 peer-reviewed publications and is currently a Professor at Harvard Medical School and the Director of HIV Prevention Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. As the Principal Investigator of the Brown-Tufts Fogarty International AIDS Training and Research grant for more than a decade, he helped develop the research capabilities of almost 100 international investigators.  He is the founding Medical Research Director of The Fenway Institute, the research division of the largest ambulatory facility caring for HIV-infected patients in New England, where he continues to teach and mentor medical students, residents, and fellows. He has served on the national boards of the HIV Medicine Association, amfAR, and the GLMA. He has received awards recognizing his work from the Governor of Massachusetts, the Rhode Island Medical Society, the American College of Physicians, the Infectious Disease Society of America, and the American Foundation for AIDS Research. He currently serves as a member of the Governing Council of the International AIDS Society.


This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, State-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.