The recent death of Dr. Wilbert C. Jordan prompted colleagues and mentees to recall his pioneering efforts to treat people afflicted with the disease. Jordan, who passed away in April, began battling the epidemic in 1979 – two years before the CDC publicly identified the virus. He later established the Oasis Clinic in South L.A. to provide testing and medical services to people living with the infection.
“Dr. Jordan always was a warrior for social justice and the advancement of African Americans even before the HIV epidemic began, initially working at MLK [hospital] bringing quality healthcare to the people of South Los Angeles as an ID specialist,” said Dr. Derrick Butler, HIV specialist and medical director of To Help Everyone Clinic.
“When the epidemic started, he saw the severity of illness and suffering of people with HIV, especially among the Black and the gay communities. He quickly saw the unequal attention and resources for HIV care directed to the population he served compared to areas in other parts of L.A. that were less diverse and wealthier,” noted Butler.
“He became a tireless and fearless advocate against racism, classism and homophobia that was prevalent among medical professionals and our own Black community.”
Dr. Ron Jefferson, HIV specialist at Oasis Clinic and Kendren Community Mental Health, who considered Jordan a “friend and mentor for over 30 years,” remembered Jordan as a man of strong convictions.
“I admired his courage and willingness to fight for his patients. He was brilliant, hardworking and a fierce warrior for the HIV community. I think his philosophy of life was to care for the most vulnerable populations in the minority community,” said Jefferson.
According to Dr. Lashonda Spencer, Jordan was “unapologetic in his advocacy” on behalf of HIV/AIDS patients and the Black and Brown communities of South Los Angeles.
“He was also very passionate about educating medical professionals who would be taking care of the community. He addressed issues directly and pointed out injustice when he saw it,” Spencer said.
A native of Los Angeles, Jordan was raised in Arkansas. After graduating from Harvard in 1966, he earned his MD at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1971. Five years later, he received his Master of Public Health degree at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, where he also completed residencies in internal medicine and infectious diseases.
Jordan’s determination to provide care for those infected with the HIV/AIDS virus was fueled by the fact that “his first patients were dying rapidly,” his goddaughter Rachel Green said.
“He didn’t know all that HIV was at that time. He knew that he had to research and learn about this disease to best serve the community. He saw the negative effects that HIV had on the families of those affected,” she said.
The most challenging aspect of dealing with this disease was the stigma about the disease that he encountered in the churches and Black community in general.
“This activated his advocacy to fight for funding, awareness, and medication that made a difference in the lives of those affected with HIV. He became a community activist,” Green shared.
Jordan’s actions attracted wider attention, resulting in him receiving numerous commendations including the United States Surgeon General’s Award (2000); Black AIDS Institute Hero in the Struggle Award (2001); Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly Award for Courage (2013); Better Brothers Los Angeles Advocate Award (2015); and CDU Legacy Leaders award (2017).
Also, he was honored by the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Student National Medical Association and named Doctor of the Year three times by the Charles R. Drew Medical Society. In 2002, he was the first recipient of the B.E.T. Community Service Pioneers Award.
Jordan’s contributions to ensuring HIV care for minority communities led to many Black, Brown, and underserved populations receiving medical aid. However, the work is not done because African Americans are still disproportionately impacted.
Considering Jordan’s trailblazing strides, his friend, Dr. William King, believes Jordan would have sobering words for the Black community today.
“I think Dr. Jordan’s advice would be that Black men and women should insist on knowing their status by being tested for HIV at their doctor’s office. If they are at risk for HIV, they should be tested for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases regularly,” King said.
“Also, the Black community must address the negative stigma attached to HIV which impacts decision making to receive preventive care and treatment. We must overcome our fears, including homophobia, which forces persons to not seek care, education or have family or community support,” he added.
“Our traditionally support systems – family, community including fraternal and sorority – and our main support of the church, need to reduce stigma and increase acceptance if we are to make gains in reducing transmission and optimizing the quality of life for those whose lives are impacted by HIV,” concluded King.