MCW Community Educator Driven to Expand Impact of Research in African American Community

MCW community educator driven to expand impact of research in African American community

Broderick Pearson, a research associate at the vlog’s (MCW) Center for AIDS Intervention Research (CAIR), is on a mission.

“I want to give the Black-led community an opportunity to understand research and how it can impact their lives,” says Pearson, who focuses on awareness of HIV prevention methods and qualitative research within marginalized populations.

As a research associate at MCW for the past 13 years, Pearson supports various projects at CAIR, recruiting, facilitating, conducting group level interventions and follow-ups and evaluating components of studies that focus on HIV and other issues that disproportionately impact Black gay men.

“Being a Black gay man myself, I look at it as if someone needs to do it, I’m going to do it. I can’t see myself doing anything else just because I care so much for my people,” Pearson says.

Broderick PearsonBlack gay men have the highest rates of HIV infection in Milwaukee and elsewhere, he notes. They’re also disproportionately impacted by other social determinants of health, he says, which makes it even more important to bridge the gap between science and the real-life experiences of Black gay men.

“Unfortunately, science is science, so it’s very black and white,” Pearson says. “Science does not provide the gray area that I think Black queer men live in.”

That gray area, he explains, encompasses the additional challenges that Black gay men face, such as systemic racism and stigma, even among other African Americans.

Being afraid, being closeted with family and friends, and being ostracized within the Black community are very real concerns they have, Pearson explains.

“There’s still a big separation within our Black queer community when it comes to health care,” he says. “Based on science, they should have a support system, but it also is okay to empower yourself to say, ‘If I don’t have support, I still can take care of myself and still live a healthy lifestyle.’”

Promoting Equality in Research

As he works to help HIV positive men and others understand the importance of science, including taking medication and adhering to treatment plans, Pearson has a dual responsibility to help researchers understand the population they’re working to treat.

Broderick Pearson, March with Pride“It’s important that individuals within the science world understand how everyday life, stigma and social determinants of health have a huge impact on Black queer life,” he says. “Our [researchers] understand the community a lot differently than they would have if I was not a part of the CAIR staff.”

Pearson has also brought that understanding to the research community outside of MCW, contributing information to several research papers, facilitating discussions, and presenting it at conferences. Pearson says opportunities to support Katherine Quinn, PhD, associate professor at MCW and associate director of CAIR, and Jeffrey Kelly, PhD, professor and director of CAIR, have pushed him in his capacity as a leader and role model.

“They have been treasures in my life,” says Pearson, who received the President’s Community Engagement Award in 2019.

Mobilizing Community Engagement and Activism

Pearson’s work as an educator and activist started before his time at MCW. When he was part of House of Infinity, an organization comprised of Black gay men who were the “socialites” of the community, the group was offered a grant by the now-defunct nonprofit New Concept Self-Development Center because of their success gathering the Black queer community.

That grant turned into $200,000 in funding from the City of Milwaukee and State of Wisconsin to conduct community outreach, group level interventions and HIV testing referrals.

“That’s what started my role as a community educator,” says Pearson, who was then approached to become a part of CAIR. “It was a wonderful opportunity to connect research with the community's voice and aspect.”

Pearson’s work as a drag entertainer performing under the moniker “MONTELL Infiniti Ross” also played a major role in his transition into a community leader. As MONTELL, Pearson has won several accolades, including Mr. PrideFest Milwaukee, Mr. Gay Wisconsin USofA, Mr. Gay Iowa USofA, Mr. Gay Southern States USofA, Mr. Club Wisconsin and a host of other titles.

It’s also helped him make inroads that he isn’t sure he would have made as Broderick, even though he feels they do have similarities.

“MONTELL is very community focused, community driven. I am a people person when I have my MONTELL Infiniti hat on,” he says. “MONTELL has allowed me to adapt to different communities that Broderick would have never tapped into.”

Black Lives Matter

As MONTELL and Broderick, Pearson has become an even greater leader in recent years, eclipsing invisible boundaries for Black gay men in Milwaukee and elsewhere. One of his greatest successes in recent years was his advocacy during the George Floyd protests.

At the time, with PrideFest in Milwaukee canceled due to the pandemic, event organizers failed to support the struggles highlighted during the Black Lives Matter movement, Pearson says.

“I became very upset as a Black gay man. I looked at it as a time where there were so many similarities between being queer and being Black and the [event organizers] didn't connect the dots,” he says.

Taking initiative, Pearson organized a large protest in Walker’s Point that was attended by more than 10,000 individuals from Wisconsin and beyond, and drew support from local businesses and organizations.

Broderick Pearson, advocacy in the community

That march in solidarity became a historical movement for the queer community of Milwaukee, says Pearson, who afterwards was inducted into the Milwaukee LGBT History app for his commitment to activism and leadership within the LGBTQA+ community of Wisconsin. The following year he was asked to organize a Black queer drag show on the mainstage at PrideFest Milwaukee, which continues to this day.

While he takes great pride in his achievements and status as a community leader, Pearson also feels significant satisfaction in helping to break barriers in scientific research that focuses on the gay community.

“My work has given researchers the opportunity to understand the Black queer community on a different level,” he says. “I find them coming to me for answers to specific questions that maybe they wouldn’t have felt comfortable asking before.”

As for the future, Pearson says he wants to keep the needle moving in both his advocacy work for the Black gay community and the Black community in general, especially in relation to science and research.

“I love representing the queer side of myself and being able to help shift the needle to science in Black queer life. I now want to do that as a Black man in general,” he says. “I want to expand my horizons within a population that is my natural population but is also outside of my norm.”

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