Native Charlottean Johnathan “Johnny” Wilson has been an active contributor to Charlotte’s health and wellness scene for quite some time. As a young Black gay professional, “weirdly fascinated by cheetahs because they’re fast, fierce and never trying to [be] the biggest or baddest,” Wilson is routinely spotted around town making a name for himself. Wilson is so invested in the Charlotte community that he never plans on leaving. Well, at least not for a very long time when he hopes to retire to Australia. In the meantime, he wants to see the fruits of the labor of so much hard work. For Wilson, “to uproot myself and try to do what I do somewhere else is just preposterous.”  During this candid interview, Wilson takes a look back at what 2022 has been like for him in Charlotte and his aspirations for 2023. 

L’Monique King: What was most challenging for you this past year?

Johnathan Wilson: 2022 has been a year of transition. Throughout this year, that word [transition] just flashes in my head for so many different reasons. Not only did I switch jobs, but the day I left my job at RAIN I was also moving into a new house. I was also able to transition out of my relationship. 

The funny thing is, because I had to pack the night before and be at a new job the next day, I hired movers to help. I then put sticky notes on all the things I wanted to take with me. Some things were staying because my ex was still going to be living at the house. Well, it’s been six months and I’m still finding sticky notes in my new house. <bursts into laughter> I’m haunted by them, haunted by sticky notes. 

LMK: When many people hear your name, they think of RAIN, the HIV organization you were employed by for years. What’s your transition from RAIN to the Mecklenburg County Health Department been like?

JW: Hard. It was a very hard transition. It was a decision that I was sitting on for two and a half months before making. I was actually offered the position in April of 2022, but I wasn’t quite sure at that time what I wanted to do. The county graciously waited for me to make my decision. 

LMK: What held you back from accepting immediately?

JW: One of the things that was laying so heavily on my mind was my clients. Clients that I’d been working with for years and years. I had one client in particular that I knew I did not do my best in assisting them in becoming self-sufficient. This was a very challenging client and one of my best clients. So, leaving [RAIN] without feeling like I was able to assist her in transitioning in her journey to something better was tough. That still bothers me to this day – that I’m not able to see that movement in her life like I’ve seen with other clients. 

LMK: What’s your role at the health department? What do you do there?

JW: My title is Program Health Supervisor and what my focus is, what I get paid to do is monitor the EHE (Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative) HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) contract. EHE is an initiative that was created to help complement and enhance the Ryan White program. Typically, I’m looking over the internal budget for the county and I’m also looking at how our sub recipients manage their budgets and their programs. Sub recipients are organizations that are funded to serve individuals under the EHE contract. I also supervise the linkage to care program for the county. 

LMK: Linkage to Care sounds like where you’re most able to be creative. Is it?

JW: Well, actually I’m able to be creative within both [roles]. Not only am I monitoring the EHE HRSA grant but I’m also able to create different intervention programs along with funding existing intervention programs. I woke up one morning and Mecklenburg County had received its first case of Monkeypox, with more on the horizon. I received a phone call from Angela Lee, Assistant Health Director stating that Dr. Washington the Health Director would like to have a meeting with me. I was nervous, I couldn’t think of what they might have wanted. At the meeting I was asked, “What are we going to do about the Monkeypox response?” So, I gave my ideas in regard to what I would like to see happen. My thoughts were, we can’t wait for people to come to the health department to get their vaccines. The waiting list was already above 2000 people. 

So, I took it back to my old outreach days, bringing health to the public, going into the community and giving them what they need. At first, we were looking at having information at clubs and different venues, but that’s not what I had in mind. I wanted to have nurses working with us, providing vaccines on the spot. From there I started contacting prior contacts and suggested that one of the promoters I’d previously worked with have a field day. It took off from there. The event was called the LGBT Field Day. It was held on Harding University High School’s campus. It was the first of many mobile Monkeypox vaccination [clinics]. That first day we vaccinated about 100 people, a success I’m proud of.

LMK: As a young Black Gay male in HIV prevention, what do you think is the greatest challenge in ending the epidemic of HIV for the southeast?

JW: Ummm, it changes. But for me, I feel like the challenge is we as workers, as organizations, as leaders and individual entities are not able to collaborate in a way that the community can see and feel change. 

LMK: What solution would you suggest in combating this issue?

JW: It’s going to take time, turf and trust in order to say that we are actually collaborating. When we talk about time, it’s going to take time to participate in meetings to see what the collaboration will look like and define measurable goals. When I say give up turf, I’m talking about clients. Not that they are property but the mindset of clients belonging to particular organizations needs to be given up. And then, trust. You have to be able to trust the intentions of others in order to be able to work together. Knowing that we’re all working toward the same goal and we all have each other’s best interest at heart. 

LMK: Sounds like you’ve put some serious thought into that and have had a full year. Any resolutions for 2023?

JW: Yes. <Chuckles> My resolutions are going to sound so cliché. Definitely getting back into the gym. Hopefully finding a partner. Doesn’t have to be a man. 

LMK: Expanding your options to include dating women?  Is that a new thing for you?

JW: No, not necessarily a new thing. It’s more about being sexually fluid. It seems like, it’s ok for women to be fluid in a way that most men cannot. Most times when I am communicating with a woman and let them know that I’ve been with men, it’s a deal breaker. However, if a woman were to say to me or any men that I know that they’ve been with another woman, we as men don’t even think twice about it because it’s always seen as sexy. It’s a whole different story. 

LMK: So how do you identify?

I identify as gay male. For me personally, I take it back to the Genderbread man/person. My [gender] expression and my sexuality don’t define my love interest and vice versa. Society has boxes that we check off or don’t check off and it’s just easier for me to go with gay male, and not have to constantly explain how I’ve primarily been with men, not just sexually but romantically. 

LMK: With so much on your plate, down time and most certainly needed to remain diligent and sane. How do you spend your down time? 

JW: This job requires a lot of us. A lot of talking, interacting. I love doing it, but it can be draining. So, for me, if I have a big event where I have to talk and present, I go home after and sleep for a day and a half. Sleep is what I typically do with down-time. The way folks say they can outdrink somebody, I can out sleep somebody in a heartbeat.

LMK: Any final thoughts for readers?

JW: I’ve always been able to thrive in an environment that has allowed me to be authentically me. Though there may be some red tape in working with the county they are allowing me to change the color of the tape. So, my final thought would be to find and immerse yourself within environments that allow you to be you – that is the only way that companies and organizations are going to be able to stay relevant and innovative. 

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