Updated: Aug 23
By Eduardo Morales, Ph.D.
In the over 28 years at AGUILAS, a community-based agency serving Latinx LGBTQ+ persons, I had the pleasure to work with wonderful, dedicated staff. Throughout this time four of them died with the most recent being Israel Nieves-Rivera. When I met Israel in the mid 1990’s, he was the Program Director at a youth program in San Francisco. With his strike, youthful good-looks and salt and pepper hair, he was a warm, approachable, and friendly person, dedicated to his career in public service. He frequently spent time at Café Flore on the corner of Market and 16th Street talking with friends. As we got to know each other I was impressed with his interests and great sense of humor. Since we both were raised in New York and of Puerto Rican families, we had much to share. In 1992 he obtained a B.S. degree from the State University in New York at Oneonta majoring in social science and secondary education. While in NY he was a high school history teacher and became active in HIV/AIDS work.
Given my academic position and research interests in HIV/AIDS, I obtained two research grants to compare two strategies for HIV/AIDS prevention designed for Latinx and African American gay/bisexual men. I invited Israel to apply for the research coordinator position at the California School of Professional Psychology where I was core faculty. Luckily, he applied and took the position where we developed a warm and collegial relationship. When the research project ended, a position at AGUILAS became available for Director of Programs and Operations through another grant I obtained from the Centers of Disease Control (CDC). There we worked together implementing various HIV prevention interventions, training interns, and conducting many outreach efforts to engage Latinx gay/bisexual men to our program. His suitability was extraordinary by both having knowledge in administration and in policy development. He was a member of the New York State Prevention Planning Council and
Co-Chaired the Stimulant Prevention Task Force for the San Francisco Community Substance Abuse Services. While at AGUILAS he was a member of the San Francisco HIV Prevention Planning Council and was twice elected co-chair of this Council.
In 2005 he left AGUILAS and accepted the position of Director of HIV Prevention Policy for SF Department of Public Health (SFDPH), where he provided ongoing input for framing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. As part of the management team in the HIV Prevention Section, he helped to complete several Comprehensive HIV Prevention Plans ensuring alignment with national goals. He was instrumental in managing the implementation of key CDC funded initiatives for SFDPH including the Program Collaboration and Service Integration (PCSI) grant, Project Pride, and the Maven Project. He was promoted to being the Policy Director for the SFDPH Population Health Division. In that role, he served as the principal advisor and coordinator of
Division-wide efforts to inform local, state, and national policy and improve the population’s health, with a key focus on reducing disparities and improving health equity. He collaborated closely with the SFDPH Office of Policy and Planning in this important work. He also worked on Cannabis Policy and Implementation with SFDPH Environmental Health Branch when the cannabis business became legal. In March of this year, he championed policy work for Environmental Health Branch and fostered the Health Commission to pass a resolution regarding refuse and garbage laws. On August 1 of this year, I received a call from one of my previous coworkers at AGUILAS that Israel had just passed away. I was shocked and deeply sad since he was in his midlife and at the prime of his career.
At AGUILAS we lost several talented staff persons whose lives were similarly cut short during midlife. Jorge Sanchez, M.A. unexpectedly passed away over a year ago after working for many years as group facilitator and program evaluation manager. Jorge was a skilled ethnographer at SF State César Chávez Institute and worked for many years developing SF HIV Prevention Plans. Roberto Coto, M.A. was a program coordinator and later became a consultant facilitating groups at AGUILAS. Julian Olivas, MSW was a clinical intern who later became staff at AGUILAS providing individual and group interventions. The contributions of these men are very significant. They are tremendous losses for our community. We were extremely lucky at AGUILAS to have them work with us. They were all dedicated, exceptional role models, and collaborators. I cherish knowing and working with them throughout my career. May they rest in peace and remain in our memories.