The world has lost a tireless champion in the war against HIV/AIDS and other health concerns in the Black community. On March 24, 2011, Mark Colomb, Ph.D., founder and CEO of My Brother's Keeper, a national organization devoted to reducing health disparities in Black America, passed away at his home in Ridgeland, Mississippi. He was 45 years old.
Dr. Colomb was a lifelong southerner. Born in Lafayette, La., when others left the South for the North and/or West, contributing to the brain drain in the region, Dr. Colomb chose to stay and help build public-health innovations that were imitated across the country.
Dr. Colomb held academic positions at Jackson State University and Tougaloo College and was a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. He brought all of his education, innumerable skills and passion to his more than two decades of work serving the Black community.
His professional dedication to improving the lives of others began as a graduate assistant with the Jackson State University National Alumni AIDS Prevention Project in 1988. After receiving his master's degree in 1992, he began working at the Mississippi State Department of Health, Division of STD/HIV, where he served as a division branch director until 1999. Over the next four years he worked at Jackson State University as director of the Mississippi Urban Research Center, otherwise known as MURC, where he served as project director/principal investigator for 13 federally- and state-funded projects.
Through this work, Mark was able to secure more than $9 million in grant money -- the largest of 12 five-year national awards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- in 2000. The much-needed funds put Jackson State University on the map as a premier HIV/AIDS-prevention training agency.
He did this while helping to lead four regional organizations tasked with providing HIV/AIDS prevention training to African American community-based organizations throughout the U.S. and its territories.
Under his leadership, MURC became one of the founding members of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, an HIV/AIDS testing and treatment community-mobilization initiative.
On a policy level, Dr. Colomb played an integral role in shaping state and national HIV/AIDS legislation on behalf of Black America, through his work with a variety of constituents -- from grassroots advocacy groups to national legislative bodies. Through a consultation with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency was able to establish the Minority AIDS Initiative (MAI) in 1997. MAI provides critical resources to enhance and increase minority access to lifesaving HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment services.
And although he retired from Jackson State University in 2003, Dr. Colomb's advocacy work was far from over. Next he set his sights on helping to reduce health disparities in minority populations -- particularly Black men who have sex with men -- through the promotion of better health habits and an overall commitment to well-being.
As president and chief executive officer of My Brother's Keeper, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Ridgeland, Miss, and with offices in Jackson, Miss., and Atlanta, Ga., Dr. Colomb petitioned for funding from national organizations to conduct HIV/AIDS, heart disease, obesity, breast, cervical and prostate cancer, and childhood lead poisoning prevention education and services projects locally and nationally.
Most recently, Dr. Colomb was a founding member of the National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition (NBGMAC), a Washington, D.C.,-based organization that recommends and advocates for sound HIV/AIDS policy on the behalf of Black men who have sex with men (MSM).
"Mark was a driving force behind the Black community's mobilization around HIV/AIDS in the U.S. His death has dealt a devastating blow," says Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. "Mark was a visionary leader and talented researcher. He was among a very small group of openly gay men working in the rural south. His death is a tremendous loss to the AIDS movement, particularly among Black gay men."
Donations to "My Brother's Keeper" in Dr. Colomb's name can be mailed to My Brother's Keeper, 404 Orchard Park Ridgeland, Miss., 39157-5160.