Pos­i­tive Im­pact co-founder re­tir­ing af­ter 22 years at the helm

GA Voice - - Paul Plate - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

“I have spent my life cre­at­ing and en­cour­ag­ing other peo­ple with me to cre­ate new things and over the years we got more and more peo­ple to do the most amaz­ing things.”

Paul Plate’s voice crack­les through the phone as he drives through the North Ge­or­gia moun­tains on the way to Short Moun­tain, the Ten­nessee sanc­tu­ary owned by the Rad­i­cal Faeries, to take part in a week­end­long Na­tive Amer­i­can rit­ual and dance.

“It’s just re­mark­able and life af­firm­ing and life al­ter­ing and all of those things,” Plate says of the event. He uses sim­i­lar words to de­scribe his time at Pos­i­tive Im­pact, the HIV/AIDS ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion he co­founded in 1993.

Later this month, Plate will be re­tir­ing af­ter 22 years as the agency’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, an oc­ca­sion that will be marked by a party in his honor on April 25 at The Com­merce Club.

But the 66-year-old Bronx na­tive won’t be go­ing far, as he plans to stay on as a con­sul­tant when the or­ga­ni­za­tion merges with AID Gwin­nett to be­come Pos­i­tive Im­pact Health Cen­ters.

Plate ex­plains his path from col­lege in West Vir­ginia to At­lanta, to re­ceiv­ing an HIV pos­i­tive in the early 1980s, to the ori­gins of Pos­i­tive Im­pact, to what he’ll do next and more.

So, Paul, how did you make your way to At­lanta?

This was a long time ago, so there wasn’t a lot of op­por­tu­nity for gay men to ex­pe­ri­ence their lives openly. A friend of mine was with Youth For Un­der­stand­ing, which was an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent ex­change pro­gram. They had two re­gions open, San Fran­cisco and At­lanta, and I chose At­lanta be­cause I’m afraid of earth­quakes [laughs]. So I came to Ge­or­gia in 1979 to be re­gional direc­tor of Youth For Un­der­stand­ing.

When did you come out to your par­ents?

For me telling my fam­ily at the parental level was be­cause of the HIV di­ag­no­sis and be­ing scared and want­ing them to know all of who I re­ally was. But I never felt like I needed to hold it in their face. I was di­ag­nosed early on, in 1983.

What was that time like af­ter you were di­ag­nosed, as it turned into a full-blown epi­demic?

It re­ally was ... fright­fully—I wanted to say an­other word be­gin­ning with f—fright­fully scary. Some­times I get tired of peo­ple telling the war sto­ries, how­ever I’m feel­ing re­ally emo­tional right now with you talk­ing to me be­cause I was work­ing with an­other agency in town who I don’t like to say the name of. When I be­came the bud­get co­or­di­na­tor, we had 22 clients and one-and-a-half staff mem­bers and we were the only agency in town.

We were do­ing things that peo­ple should never have to do. We were go­ing to places and meet­ing am­bu­lances and trick­ing them into pick­ing up clients and tak­ing them to the hos­pi­tal. They were so fright­ened be­cause it wasn’t clear what the mode of trans­mis­sion was and how risky th­ese kinds of things were.

The first wave was deal­ing with ma­jor crises in the com­mu­nity and in the early 1990s we be­gan to have the sec­ond wave of or­ga­ni­za­tions where we said, ‘Now that we’re tak­ing our breath a lit­tle bit, what do they re­ally need to be suc­cess­ful in their lives?’ And we started say­ing, well, they needed men­tal health.

So I got to be­come the direc­tor [of Pos­i­tive Im­pact] where we could say to folks, you can feed them all you want, you can house them all you want but if they’re not set emo­tion­ally, psy­cho­log­i­cally, you’re not ex­actly wast­ing your time and money but pretty much so.

So I can say that one of the things I’m most proud of in my life was that we started out as a com­mu­nity where men­tal health was an an­cil­lary ser­vice for only peo­ple who could af­ford it and then got to the point of the com­mu­nity say­ing, ‘Men­tal health is the pri­mary ser­vice that we need.’

What do you want to do next?

I don’t want to leave this to­tally right now. I think I’ll be work­ing with Pos­i­tive Im­pact Health Cen­ters one year, maybe two years depend­ing on what the projects are but not full time, just sit­u­a­tional. I need a break. I need to

I have had the bless­ing and I’m so grate­ful—and I am not one that says ‘bless­ing’ and ‘grate­ful’ and ‘joy’ very eas­ily—but when I’m look­ing at re­tire­ment I’m think­ing, ‘Holy shit! I have spent my life cre­at­ing and en­cour­ag­ing other peo­ple with me to cre­ate new things and over the years we got more and more peo­ple to do the most amaz­ing things.’

So my life is just en­riched ev­ery sin­gle day with cre­ativ­ity and en­ergy and new thought and in­tel­li­gence and pos­si­bil­ity and all those things that you get to be part of ev­ery sin­gle day. That en­ergy and that in­sight is so nur­tur­ing that I can’t imag­ine what my life would be like with­out it.

So I’ve got to fig­ure out how to con­tinue that. That I will miss and I have to fig­ure out how to not miss it.

April 17, 2015

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