by Dr. Richard Marlink
We lost a giant in the fight against AIDS when Mario Cooper died on May 29, in Washington, D.C.
I first met Mario Cooper after Maurice Tempelsman, the Chair of HAI’s International Advisory Council, encouraged him to join the Council in the early 1990s. Mario and I and others then organized a policy and advocacy campaign of national African American leaders to be part of an awareness campaign. It was called Leading for Life. The campaign drew attention to the fact that since the beginning of HIV/AIDS in the U.S., minorities have been disproportionally affected by the epidemic. There were no focused efforts to curb AIDS in minority communities.
Our campaign launched in October 1996. Over one hundred African American leaders came to Harvard to debate what should be done about the epidemic that was killing so many. In the coming decade, AIDS would become the leading cause of death for young African Americans
Some national groups representing minorities refused to attend the summit. AIDS, they said, was not an issue for their constituents. This frustrated Mario, but also energized him to continue reaching out to these groups until they came to the table. HAI followed up the Leading for Life campaign with one for national Latino leaders, called Unidos Para La Vida.
Leading for Life members were instrumental in briefing the Congressional Black Caucus, which then canvased the Clinton Administration for a special $156 million allocation for AIDS programs for minority communities. This was a lot of funding at the time.
For all of us working to end the AIDS epidemic, Mario was a strong and clear voice. He was always shining a light on the issues and problems in our response to HIV/AIDS, then proposing how we could address those problems. He was a thoughtful, behind-the-scenes catalyst.
On a personal note, Mario was a good friend and a lovely person. He was always concerned about others, always listening, always caring. His heart was as big as his giant intellect. I will miss him dearly.
Title photo: Elvin F. Poussaint and Mario Cooper, right, speak at Leading for Life symposium
Dr. Richard Marlink is the Executive Director of the Harvard AIDS Initiative and a Professor of the Practice of Public Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.