A transition can be a moment for celebration—an opportunity to both look ahead to the future and recognize the past. On November 18, 2022, the Fund welcomed S. Mandisa Moore-O’Neal as the new Executive Director of The Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP), a Fund Partner Project. We also honored Catherine Hanssens, who founded CHLP and served as Executive Director for 16 years; she now serves an advisor on the organization’s legal and policy programs and strategies.
Fund President Lisette Nieves welcomed both luminaries, beginning with Moore-O’Neal, who is a Black feminist civil rights attorney, a trained facilitator, and a cultural and political strategist. Moore-O’Neal shared insight into her influences and perspective on her new role as CHLP’s Executive Director:
“If you know me, then you know that I’m deeply impacted by the work of Toni Morrison. […] She said, ‘I stood at the margins, I stood at the border, I stood at the edge and claimed it as central and let the rest of the world move to where I was.’ […] It was clear she wasn’t calling for an arrogance… it was, ‘I see things that you don’t see, I see things that you can’t see, and it is in that seeing, in this position, in what you call the margins, that we all get free.’ And that deeply impacts why I am so honored, so excited to lead this organization. I am excited to continue work that has been happening, and to expand what it means for all of us to have freedom, even the parts of ourselves that we don’t know.”
Following her remarks, Moore-O’Neal joined President Nieves in recognizing Catherine Hanssens with an engraved crystal award.
“This award is on behalf of the Fund and all the people who love you,” said President Nieves, “and all the people you have given dignity to, and you have seen, and their families who have benefitted from being seen. And it says here, ‘Honoring Catherine Hanssens for her outstanding legal policy work.’ Congratulations.”
Upon accepting the award before colleagues and friends, Hanssens reflected on her career. “When I founded CHLP 16 or so years ago, my goal was to democratize resources and launch initiatives that would advance advocacy for people who are not generally in the agenda at major organizations,” Hanssens said. “[…] Poor and working-class people trying to have a life in a society that does not do well with people who are different on the basis of their health, disability, sex, or sexual orientation or race. Thanks to many of the people who are here, as a little organization, we have been pretty successful at drafting and seeing passage of state laws, federal laws and regulations that have made things a little easier for people.”
The Fund gratefully acknowledges CHLP’s past achievements, and we look forward to seeing its future strides. Congratulations to S. Mandisa Moore-O’Neal and Catherine Hanssens.
Thank you to the host committee:
Chai Feldblum & Nan Hunter