As an aspiring journalist, a younger George Bouldin Gates ‘11 used to imagine a career as a writer. He had earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass media from Rutgers University and worked in the field after graduating. As often happens, though, an unexpected opportunity led him down a different path.
Chancing upon his future
He decided to move from Maryland to New York City where he connected with a friend who worked at an organization for LGTBQ youth.
“He said there was an open position within his organization and told me to go for it,” remembers Gates. “I did.”
Gates wore many hats in his role at Gay Men’s Health Services, doing everything from overseeing after-school programming and HIV counseling and testing, to advocating for HIV awareness and prevention.
Over the next 15 years, he went on to work for a number of organizations in New York focused on supporting LGTBQ and minority populations. In his various roles, he worked on community education, capacity building, program management, grant writing and other outreach and development efforts to help these organizations meet the needs of their clients.
“I was working with people at risk and living with HIV,” he explains.
In 2016, Gates accepted a position at Gilead Science—an organization well-known for its advances in HIV treatment and prevention—so he could continue to support these communities in a new capacity.
By now an experienced educator in the realm of HIV/AIDS, he provides training and technical expertise to community members, community-based organizations and other stakeholders in the areas of HIV prevention, outreach and awareness and community mobilization. He also works to build strategic partnerships with health departments and other partners to respond to community needs specific to HIV/AIDS and to increase HIV testing among vulnerable populations.
Three decades of progress
The world recently marked the 40th anniversary of the AIDS crisis, and Gates reflects on how far treatments and prevention have come. When he began working in the field 28 years ago, he remembers meeting young people living with HIV who had to take more than 30 pills a day to manage their illness.
“I saw people suffer and I saw people die,” he says.
Thanks to innovations in treatment, HIV-positive individuals only have to take one pill a day to keep the illness at bay.
“We have made such tremendous progress in what we know about how to treat HIV and how people can live longer healthier lives with HIV,” he says. “It’s no longer the death sentence people saw it as during the early 90s.”
Gilead has also pioneered FDA-approved medication to help prevent people from getting HIV if they are exposed to the virus, marking another critical advancement in eradicating HIV/AIDS.
“I’ve been with Gilead for five years now,” Gates notes. “Even if I wasn’t at Gilead, I’d be proud of the work they’re doing.”
Returning to the classroom
In 2009, Gates decided it was time to expand his knowledge and expertise. Inspired by his sister, who earned two master’s degrees from UMGC, he enrolled in the MBA program.
“Even though I work in public health, I wanted an MBA to broaden my opportunities,” he says. “I wanted to have a different skill set on my resume that I could bring to the work I do in HIV.”
He’s also broadened his skills in other ways. In 2007, he enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in New York City to take continuing education courses in graphic design and related software programs.
“Different things satisfy me professionally and creatively, and I wanted to be able to feed those passions,” he says. Gates turned his love for graphic design into a side venture that he continues to pursue today.
A personal revelation
Aside from the professional fulfillment his career has given him, Gates credits his work in the HIV field for helping him realize his true self.
“It is because of the work I do around HIV/AIDS that I felt empowered to come out to friends,” he explains. “Working with youth encouraged me to speak my truth and to live life the way that would make me happiest. Coming out to family and friends lifted that burden for me and made me more comfortable in my skin.”
Inspired to do more
He wants to remain working in the field that he given him so much personally and professionally.
“We are at a place where we can end HIV, and I love that I can be a part of that,” he says. “The most fulfilling part for me is the impact I get to help make with clients, patients and consumers to help them feel empowered, engaged and proactive in their health care.”
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