Black PR Wire Power Profiler on Leisha McKinley-Beach
A native of DeFuniak Springs, Florida, Leisha McKinley-Beach is a national HIV expert, community mobilization trainer, and strategic planner for State HIV prevention programs. The consummate professional, Leisha is a graduate of the University of Florida where she obtained her BS in Health Science Education, and her MS in Health Science Education from the University of West Florida. She is the first college graduate in her family.
Leisha was raised by her grandmother and her great-grandmother. They instilled in her to never let anything in her life be greater than her love for God, always support her family, and serve her community and church. She learned early on that she was supposed to serve in a leadership position. She was about nine years old when one of her cousins said to a group of the younger cousins, “I bet you $5 you can’t stand in the fire ant bed for one minute.” She took the challenge! She stood in that fire ant bed screaming as the ants were biting away. Her grandmother made her stand in the bathtub so she could rinse all the ants off. Everyone got TLC for their ant bites except Leisha; she got a spanking. She was told, “From this day forward know God called you to be a leader not a follower; don’t ever give up the place where God created for you to stand.” Since that day, she has tried to live her life according to the prophetic message prophesied over her.
As a young woman, Leisha was filled with ambition, but she said that she wasn’t seeking a career in HIV; HIV found her. Being enrolled in the public health program meant choosing an area of expertise. She was certain nutrition education would be her track. But teaching healthy eating and exercise meant she needed to “practice what she preached”…That wasn’t happening. Her second passion was sexual health and she felt that she could live the life she was educating about.
From her very first presentation, she knew that sexual health education was her calling. Since that time, everything has fallen into place. She turned her dreams of having a career that would enable her to make a real difference in the community into reality after becoming the Executive Director of United Counties Minority AIDS Care and Education, located in Pensacola, Florida. Working diligently to identify unmet service needs, she conducted support groups for Persons Living With AIDS (PLWA) and substance abusers.
Leisha moved on to hold other successful stints as a Sales Agent at Liberty National Insurance in Crestview, Florida and Nashville, Tennessee; and the Prevention Program Advisor and subsequently Prevention Program Supervisor at the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) in Tallahassee, Florida. During her four+ year tenure at FDOH, Leisha gained national recognition as the co- organizer for the Florida Department of Health’s, Bureau HIV/AIDS largest conference - Sistas Organizing To Survive (SOS). She also worked at the Georgia Department of Community Health in Atlanta, Georgia as the HIV Prevention Director.
Currently, Leisha works at The Black AIDS Institute, where she has been appointed as the Southern Regional Coordinator. In this role, she coordinates, leads and oversees implementation of mobilization and training and capacity building programs; executes testing and awareness tours; serves as liaison with NASTAD, state AIDS directors throughout the Southern region; coordinates and implements client HIV/AIDS programs, events and initiatives, including Black Treatment Advocates Network (BTAN), African American HIV University (AAHU), Greater Than AIDS (GTA), Black Gay Men’s Network (BGMN); and assists with the recruitment of African-Americans to the International AIDS Conference (IAC).
Leisha has written several award winning publications, including “Taking Control Statewide Initiative for Gay and Bisexual Men.” She has also served as co-author of “Organizing to Survive: The HIV/AIDS Crisis Among Florida’s Women”; and co-author of “Out In the Open: The Continuing Crisis of HIV/AIDS Among Florida’s Men Who Have Sex With Men.”
What is her vision for the next ten years? Leisha shared that Phil Wilson, the founder and CEO of The Black AIDS Institute says, “We are at a deciding moment in the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic; we now possess the tools we need to end the AIDS epidemic. With recent scientific breakthroughs the question is no longer ‘Can we end the AIDS epidemic?’ The question is ‘Will we?’" With scientific advances and a National HIV/AIDS Strategy, she believes that they have the foundation to end AIDS. She wants to build on that foundation and ensure that the Black community’s needs are represented nationally, statewide, and locally, and that there is a community voice represented at decision making tables like the President Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA); and finally, that the state of AIDS in Black America is heard on a world stage like the International AIDS Conference.
Leisha says that they have a voice at PACHA with Phil Wilson and others from their community. She shared that the International AIDS Conference is coming to the U.S. in July for the first time in 20 years. The Black Institute will take a delegation of Black journalists to the conference in Washington D.C. to report back to the community the latest information. Thus, the next 10 years will be critical, as she believes we are on the road to seeing the end of AIDS.
Leisha’s personal motto for success is: “To live with integrity and to make a difference in the lives of others.” A leader understands their role is to serve. She says that in your service, your words, actions, and deeds should uplift and encourage people, not tear them down.
Her advice to upcoming graduates is to “Stay true to your dreams. If you believe you have an idea for a project or an initiative that would better the health of the community, pursue it, even if it’s not a popular concept among your colleagues. The programs I’ve been involved with that had the greatest impact on the community were the same programs that met the most opposition because they had never been done before. As a public health official, your job is to serve the public. If we create a generation of professionals who remain true to this philosophy, we will change the way health care is delivered in this country for the better.”