Caring for the Culture

Interviews with Dr. Jason Halperin and DJ RQ Away
A black and white photo of 2 people holding a giant, prop needle that reads “#SleevesUpNOLA.” The person on the left is dark-skinned and bald, and they’re wearing a black mask and a black shirt that reads “Made in New Orleans.” The person on the right is light-skinned and is wearing a polka-dotted tank top and jeans and a white mask. Their hair is pulled back and they have sunglasses on the top of their head. Photo by Katie Sikora.

CrescentCare is a staple in New Orleans, building on more than 30 years of impact and outreach via its founding organization NO/AIDS Task Force. The organization is committed to providing affordable health care and supportive services to vulnerable populations. Their response to systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, and misogyny is to provide exceptional services and create a culture of humility and inclusiveness for the entire community. DJ RQ Away has been curating quality and unique experiences through music since 2008. A proud New Orleans native, he is the creator of The Tipping Point, one of the longest-running weekly DJ sets in the city; and Lagniappe, a quarterly set at Tipitina’s that draws crowds upwards of 700 attendees. He hosts curated events, educational community building workshops, and a citywide membership program via his brand the #Awayteam. In 2016 CrescentCare and DJ RQ Away formed a partnership built upon their shared values of health equity and earning trust within New Orleans’ African American community. Their collaborative events have promoted PrEP awareness, safer sex, condom distribution, free HIV/AIDS screening, and most recently, COVID vaccination. I spoke with Dr. Jason Halperin, Innovation Medical Leader for CrescentCare, and DJ RQ Away about finding common ground between accessible health care and New Orleans culture.

A black and white photo of a light-skinned person in a dark Polo shirt and dark pants and a mask. He has a stethoscope around his neck, lots of badges and IDs on a lanyard, and a button that reads “He Him.” Above him are some leaves from branches overhead. Photo by Katie Sikora. Part 1: Dr. Jason Halperin

Tell me a little bit about CrescentCare’s history and what personally drew you to working with them and to the field of infectious disease?

Dr. Jason Halperin: I grew up in Miami, my mother’s an artist. We used to have a lot of her friends in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s come over to our home to have dinner, often beautiful men… who would then pass away shortly after getting to know them. I was young. I must have been between 8 and 12 and I remember going to the HIV/AIDS quilt. Pretty much through high school I decided the only work I wanted to do was HIV-related. It was the only thing that really felt like what I was put on Earth to do. I went to school in New York City and was deciding on where to live afterwards. At that time I was married, and my wife [Serene] and I came down to New Orleans, had the most incredible weekend, and met some of the most unbelievable people. The history of New Orleans, really with Charity Hospital and the commitment to providing care, was exactly the type of work I believed in. And of course New Orleans was on the front lines of the HIV epidemic, so it really made sense as a place for me to train and learn and have mentors.

My first experience with NO/AIDS Task Force was Nurse Practitioner Carole Pindaro. We had a transwoman hospitalized at Tulane. The care was not very gender affirming at that time and I remember having a conversation with Carole and it just felt like I had met a kindred spirit. I was like: this is the type of provider I want to be. She was wonderful. She knew the whole history. She was adamant that no matter who says hormones should be stopped, they would be wrong, that we have to make sure that one’s gender affirmation is at the forefront. I went back to New York City and Serene and I really missed New Orleans. I was in touch with Dr. Mary Murphy [NO/AIDS Task Force Medical Director of the HIV Primary Care clinic], and as soon as there was an opening I just jumped on the opportunity. I felt like New Orleans culturally had everything that I was looking for to both be a provider and to raise a family.

What are the primary demographics of the patients you serve at CrescentCare in terms of gender identity, sexuality, and race?

I primarily see people living with HIV. And the demographics really follow who is most impacted by the HIV epidemic. So 60% of my population is African American. 75% identify as male. I have over 50% men who have sex with men, but it’s probably a pretty close sexuality identity overlap of men who have sex with men and those who identify as having sex with both men and women or women exclusively. About 10% of the patients I see identify as trans. Ten percent of the population that I serve now is Latinx, so we’re definitely seeing a bit of a change there. Our median age is 28 with 55% [of the “Rapid Start” program for persons who are newly diagnosed with HIV] being African American. So we’re still seeing a younger African American population that is experiencing this epidemic and therefore all of our efforts need to both recognize that and put resources appropriately.

Are there similarities between how HIV and COVID have impacted your patient populations?

Great question. I could start with those living with HIV. We know that those living with HIV don’t have a higher risk of contracting COVID. But if they contract it, they have a higher risk of hospitalization. If you look at the data, it’s concerning. A lot of the reasons someone might have a higher risk of hospitalization have to do with their other comorbidities and we know that there’s more diabetes and hypertension and tobacco use with people living with HIV. But one of the other things I think is really important—and we heard this over and over again at CrescentCare—is we were one of the only Ryan White clinics in the country to really lean into the pandemic. On March 16th, 2020 we started a walk-in testing program. Anyone in the entire city of New Orleans we welcomed to be tested. We had a lot of people living with HIV and what they kept saying to us is, “I don’t feel comfortable being tested anywhere else.” I think that’s really important to recognize—this overlap of stigma. There’s both the stigma around being tested for COVID especially (hopefully we’re over this), but there was a lot of, “Did I do something wrong? How did I get this? Was I not following protocols?” And then to have to disclose “I’m living with HIV” if they’re going to a city testing site or an ER where they knew that they would be treated not only differently, but inappropriately. The lack of knowledge still to this day around people living with HIV and what it means to be undetectable… I have a sign behind me right now, U=U: undetectable equals untransmittable. There is zero risk of transmitting the virus if undetectable. And once undetectable with a normal CD4 count1According to the US National Library of Medicine, CD4 cells, also known as T cells, are white blood cells that fight infection and play an important role in your immune system. A CD4 count is used to check the health of the immune system in people infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). HIV attacks and destroys CD4 cells., a person’s immune system is really no different.

So it wasn’t the HIV that was driving the higher risk of hospitalization, it was some of the other comorbidities. And now you have to ask yourself: why do we see some of these same things in people living with HIV that we saw in the African American population and the Latinx population? I strongly believe that it is our racist history and continued policies as well as preconceived biases. If people don’t feel welcomed and respected, they’re gonna delay going to the hospital or seeing a primary care physician. They’re gonna delay some of the same preventative measures that we know are so essential, like having a colonoscopy or a mammogram or a pap smear. I’ve always said infectious diseases know how society treats others. You can tell how society treats others by observing the rates of infectious diseases.

Do you remember when you all partnered with DJ RQ Away and are you familiar with some of his programming done in partnership with CrescentCare?

We went out for drinks at a bar in the parking lot of Tulane. That was our first conversation. We started talking about PrEP and he was just blown away. He said: that’s what we’ve gotta do—some education around it. If you’re living with the virus, no problem, we’ll get you in. But if you’re not, we’ve got another option that’s really important and this is gonna keep us safe. So I’ve been a fan of RQ Away since we met that day. He’s a huge proponent of the health of his community. Then he started doing events at Tipitina’s, where we would go and test and then provide information about PrEP and HIV services.

For those who don’t know, what is PrEP and why was there a need for PrEP awareness in the African American community?

PrEP is a medication that prevents HIV. To this day, it is one pill once a day. We have two: one named TRUVADA, one named DESCOVY. What’s so great about PrEP is that it’s an unbelievably safe medication. There was an article once that stated it was as safe as an ibuprofen—that when taken once daily can prevent HIV at rates up to 97 or 98%. So you’re looking at medication that is highly effective. At that time when I was talking to RQ Away I said, “Imagine there’s a medication like birth control that was so effective and all the white women were on it but Black women had no idea.” That’s what we were dealing with in 2016. It was a lot worse in 2016 than it is today, and it’s still not equitable. Equitable would be: you look at the population that’s being newly diagnosed with HIV and it’s 60% African American. That means that our PrEP should be 60% prescribed in the African American community. We know that would make sense in terms of who was being prescribed a medication that prevents HIV. But if you look in 2016 it was 93% white. Now I think we’re around 85% white, maybe 80%. Maybe 15 to 20% African American. If you compare that to the 60% there is no comparison to what it should be.

If you had to pinpoint the main reason why there isn’t much awareness or usage of PrEP in the African American community, what would it be?

I think that the #1 reason is that the health system has repeatedly failed Black Americans and this is another example of that. The health system has so many components to it, but just think what would happen if this were switched and we were seeing 60% of young white men and women being diagnosed with HIV. Think about the billboards, the hospitals, the clinics, how there would be a kind of all-hands-on-deck approach to make sure there was easy access to a lifesaving medication.

Do you feel that CrescentCare ever lacked that trust relationship with the African American community? If not, what are you doing to maintain that trust?

I shouldn’t speak to how some might feel in terms of the history of the agency, but I will say that NO/AIDS Task Force and CrescentCare is a health system. Because it is a health system, it has to recognize at the very least all of the biases and racism within the health infrastructure itself. If you start there: we are a health system and health systems in this country have not treated people equally. Black men and women, trans men and women, Latinx. You think about the Black population in the city of New Orleans (the majority of the population), and health systems have never done a good job. I think that’s just a scientific fact. Well then you have to say: it’s not regaining trust as CrescentCare only, it should be regaining trust because the health system itself has lost trust… Some of this is also predicated on health systems being supported to do that. Let me give you an example: When people come here to CrescentCare to our clinic, we can charge their insurance and we get reimbursed. The vaccine is free to the patient, but their insurance pays us for administration of the vaccine. But when we go somewhere like Dragon’s Den, we can’t ask for insurance cards. That would be absurd. “Hey, you want a vaccine? We’re coming to you. You’re at a bar. Do you have your insurance card?” In the way the health system is set up, it doesn’t have support for that kind of work. So when RQ Away wants to do more events, my answer is yes. And the answer has to be yes.

When I think about all the grants that have come up since the pandemic, I’m surprised you all haven’t received more support or funding. Grants aren’t the end-all-be-all to keeping a health agency going, but I know so many different agencies and small businesses received all kinds of COVID grant funding and I’m sorry that you have not received more.

What we keep running into is either the grant would take us weeks to fill out and then we’d have to wait a month to hear back, and then if awarded we’d get the money in August or September. We know the time to move is now. So we don’t see a lot of grants that are like, “You can get money tomorrow to support community events.” And a lot of the grants don’t want to cover the medical side because of the liability there. So a lot of the grants are saying, “Hey, we’ll support a community health worker to go out into the community and tell people about CrescentCare so they can come to the clinic.” But again, I have the same issues with this. If we wait for people to come here, we will be waiting too long. This [community outreach events] works. RQ Away knows it. It works and we should be following his lead.

A black and white photo of DJ RQ Away performing at an event. He’s dark-skinned and has headphones on the top of his head and a black mask. He’s facing the right of the frame. In front of him is his DJ equipment and a laptop. In the background is a tent with people underneath it. Photo by Katie Sikora. Part 2: DJ RQ Away

What got you into deejaying?

Growing up I was always into different kinds of music. I used to listen to Ace of Base just as much as I listened to Cash Money. My older sister [and I], we’re six years apart, and she moved in when she was around 16. She had a CD player; I didn’t have CDs, I had tapes. So I would sneak into her room and listen to her CDs… One day I was in her room and I found the Phrenology album by The Roots. I was already into hip-hop but it sparked something different, it felt closer. Most hip-hop music I had access to at the time was very surface-level. It was about being rich and selling drugs and possibly murdering someone. I didn’t do any of those things. But listening to The Roots, I would actually have to get a dictionary sometimes when I would listen to their albums. There was also Soul Food by Goodie Mob, and reading through the credits on those two albums and connecting all the other artists that were connected to them created my actual foundation for hip-hop. Fast forward to Katrina… I bought my first laptop with my lil Katrina check and I spent every waking moment collecting music, buying stuff that I could find at Best Buy or Circuit City or Tower Records, and getting stuff from the bootleg man… So I got this computer, I go back to UNO (I was supposed to be going to UNO before Katrina)… I lived on the second floor of Bienville Hall, and very often you’d come on the hallway, you’d hear my music.


I became a resident assistant and we had to create programming and I have all this music so I’m like, cool. I just was lazy and built stuff around music. So there was a poetry night, I did a music exchange and invited people down to talk about music. I wasn’t trying to be a DJ at the time, I was just trying to provide something for the other students, ‘cause we didn’t have a bunch of money, you wasn’t able to go to the club unless you had a vehicle, some sort of transportation, some nice clothes to wear to the club, some money to get in, and some money to spend in it… After a while, doing the parties became kinda popular. People started asking me if I was a DJ and I’m like, no. I knew cats that were DJs and really felt like what I was doing didn’t deserve the same title as, you know, DJ Raj Smoove, DJ Matic… Some friends of mine who were also resident assistants, DJ Gee specifically, he was like, “Yo, let’s start a DJ crew.” Now, they’re Honduran, so they’ve been seeing what I’m doing with the white and Black students, and they started doing it with the Honduran students. And I’m like, “Fam, we can’t DJ.” [laughs] Like, we ain’t had no turntables, no mixer, none of that at the time.

What made you pick your name?

I have like 18 different reasons why RQ Away happened but a simpler one was, as a resident assistant you had to have a computer and you had to be willing to let students use your machine if they had to register for a class, take a test or whatever, like that. So anything on my computer that was personal, I would hide it, just so if somebody needed to use it, it wasn’t distracting them and they’re not in my business. I had this folder called Rock Away, because it was hidden. Anything that I had done musically on my computer went in this folder. One day, a friend of mine that was also a resident assistant came behind the front desk with me and saw me working on something and I went and saved it in the folder and they was like, “Oh, that’s your DJ name?”

What brought you to the point where you wanted to start addressing community issues through your platform as a DJ?

Growing up, it was me and my mom in the house for most of my life. And my father wasn’t around. I had men in my life, like my uncles, but they worked, they had their own families. So a lot of times the things that we needed—cause we weren’t rich, we lived in the Lafitte Projects, you know, food stamps, social security, that whole situation—came from outside. It came from people who weren’t my mother, they weren’t my father… we didn’t have the same last name. These people that didn’t have to worry about me were people that was helping me get through life, whether it was teaching me a skill, like my uncle teaching me how to ride a bike or taking me to ride a horse, or showing me the tadpoles out in the country, or if it was the deacons at church buying me a suit ’cause I don’t have a suit. Whether it was a teacher taking an extra amount of time to watch me after school or teach me how to do something that’s not in our curriculum so I could be better prepared and better resourced to get a job or do something like that… As much as it was my mom and my sister and my grandmother and my aunt, it was this community of people that invested in me and they didn’t have to. So, coming into this, at first it was like, alright cool, people gon’ listen to me when I DJ, they like the music I’m playing. But I was able to see that, you know, if I say put your hands in the air, they gon’ put they hands in the air. If I go buy a certain hat, people asking what that hat is, like, it was this influence I’m seeing, right?


And realizing what my influence is, #Awayteam officially became a thing in 2009. I started deejaying in 2006 and I started deejaying in public in 2008. Then it was like, “Oh, OK. We gotta do something with this besides party, besides make money.” …I started what would become The Tipping Point. From the booth at Handsome Willy’s, if the window’s open or closed, you could see under the Claiborne bridge, and you could see the boxes and the tents and the different structures that the homeless were staying in. And I gotta look through people sweating, people drinking, people smiling, people dancing, to see these people suffering while we having the time of our lives. And I’m like, “Well maybe there’s something I could do to shift this energy toward them, some kinda way.” So I started collecting money. I remember one of the very first fundraisings we did was for March of Dimes, collecting food, collecting clothes… I always had like a spirit or interest in helping people and having a positive effect on spaces around me, even as a kid. My idea of a man was a person that changes a space when he walks in. And not necessarily energy-wise but like, you leave it better than you found it. You see something wrong, you tend to it, you try to fix it. You use the resources you have to make sure everybody around you is close to equal with you, if you can. So, seeing that I had this power of influence over these sweaty drunk people, I was like, “Yo, let’s turn this into something.” So that’s when #Awayteam came back, that’s when I began to use it.

How and when did you start working with CrescentCare?

So I had Tipping Point, it was a small, cool thing at this lil bar, it absolutely led me to a bunch of other opportunities, whether it was private opportunities or things with large companies or other events around the city over the years, I’d go into relationships with different people. One of the big ones was with BMike and Studio BE. I was the house DJ for Exhibit BE and Studio BE. And around that time, a friend of mine, T-Ray The Violinist, and I went on a tour to London. We played six shows at a couple different venues in London, it was so much fun. We had come back, we were in New York, in Harlem, at my son’s grandparents’ house and I get a phone call from Wayne at Tipitina’s. He was the booker at Tip’s and I had done a couple opening sets for this local night or brass night that they were doing… He was seeing what I was doing at Tipping Point, other places, and he referenced the #Awayteam in this conversation. But he was like, “If you want, you could have this night,” and I was like, “Alright, cool.” …So back when I had Tipping Point, if I was to do anything else anywhere else I would call it Lagniappe. Lagniappe by definition means “something extra” so it was in the spirit of home, in the spirit of giving something else to people who were already rocking with me in one spot, that was Lagniappe… And so I wanted to figure out how to have a party that was still a party, but I wanted it to be bigger in ways. I was trying to think of different things to do and what that led to was donation-based access. So instead of paying ticket prices to come in, I asked people to bring canned goods; two canned goods got you a ticket… Down the line, my sister, Shanika, she started working for CrescentCare. For as long as I’ve been alive, Shanika’s been calling me, like, “Well how ’bout you try this?” She’s always solution-based and progress-based and thinking about stuff that ain’t got nothin’ to do with her, but sharing the ideas. And I think that they were looking to do more outreach in the Black community, especially the younger Black community… I asked about STD testing. I asked about the full, full docket and [CrescentCare] were like, “We can’t do the whole thing ’cause we need time for certain things, but we could do rapid HIV testing.” And I was like: that.

Your numbers were so impressive: more people tested in one night at your event than  CrescentCare would have had, like, in a month or in a couple of months from their typical rounds of going to smaller bars in the Quarter.

Yeah, I definitely remember that feedback.

A black and white photo of DJ RQ Away performing in Chicago in 2019. He’s dark-skinned and is wearing a patterned long-sleeved shirt. He’s looking slightly above the camera, and the camera is positioned slightly below him. In front of him is his laptop and a turntable. In the background is a lamp of some sort. The architecture surrounding is sort of ornamental.

DJ RQ Away performs at the Metro Chicago while on tour with Tank and The Bangas in October 2019.

What are some of the biggest wins that you’ve had from doing non-traditional forms of health engagement?

Having people understand what I’m doing in a positive way is a win. And on the other side, watching people be positively affected by it is a win. The “Shot for Shot” thing [at the Dragon’s Den], 164 people came out and got the vaccine in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to. A lot of the people commented on not being able to go to a vaccine site ’cause they’re at work, or they have non-traditional schedules or whatnot. So that right there is a win ’cause people wanted something, needed something, and they got it… These events satisfy a need for people like me, and as time went on people like me grew into doctors and analysts, administrators, painters, curators, photographers, performers, and entrepreneurs. These events—Tipping Point, Lagniappe, etc.—are always for the creation of safe space for Black people.

So my next question is, are you aware of the historical mistrust that African Americans have for the medical establishment? Do you have any personal examples of that and has your experience in that been another reason why you feel that what you do is so important, when it comes to collaborating with CrescentCare and other agencies?

So, you made me remember the conversation with my sister about PrEP which, I guess this is twofold ’cause we gonna talk about the vaccine because of this too. We gonna talk about the mistrust, rather. My sister was telling me about PrEP when PrEP came out, and I was like, “Bruh, I’m not supporting that.” And she was like, “What?” And I was like, “I don’t trust it.” I go to the doctor once a year, unless something really wrong then I go twice. If I get sick I go to the apothecary or I change my diet. If I’m not feeling well, I figure out what’s wrong and I address it. I don’t like doctors. I don’t like medicine and I think that comes from my mom. My mom is 63 years-old. When I was 6, I overheard her doctor tell her she had five years to live. So she should have passed, according to her doctor, when she was 38. Again, she’s 63. She has Crohn’s disease, she has a host of other issues as a result of not getting the proper care when she was a kid… And so over the years as a child and now, as an adult, watching my mother’s experience with the medical community is just—it’s shit. And so, when my sister is sitting here telling me about this PrEP medicine that’s supposed to prevent AIDS and they over here giving it to these white people, I’m like, “Well don’t bring that over here, I don’t trust that.” It’s very easy for me to distrust anything medical, because I’ve seen personally, time and time again, people misdiagnosed all the time, especially if you Black and you poor. We’re going to these free clinics and we on Medicaid and whatnot, we not getting the same love that our white counterparts or our middle-class counterparts are getting, you know, at Ochsner. That’s why, the PrEP thing, I was like, “Yeah, nah.” And [my sister] talked to me about it a couple times, but I also spoke to some of my queer friends, some of my male friends, who were members of that community, and we talked about it and they talked about it, making them feel safe with it, feeling like it was preventing, feeling like it was helpful… So, years down the line, now we got this vaccine and I’m on the opposite end of the support thing because like I said, my mom has been sick her whole life. She’s immunocompromised, immunosuppressed. She’s been wearing a mask for the last five years before, prior to the pandemic. So, COVID happened and… we locked my mama in the house. And this was from March, the last time I kissed her. I did kiss her for Mother’s Day this year. I kissed her on the forehead. But before that I had not kissed or hugged my mom since March 2020… So, I realized that I had the opportunity to get the vaccine. We were absolutely trying to figure out how to get it to my mom when it first came out. But I was like, “Yo, I need to get it too because not only do I have to go and take care of my mom and make sure she got what she need, but I also gotta go DJ eventually.” I still gotta go do events. I still gotta go meet people and talk to people and do all of these things that come along with my work… I know people were complaining, saying, “Man, the vaccine make you sick, I’m not getting it.” But it’s like fam: COVID make you sicker… I’ve still been having my “Easin In” version of Tipping Point, and it’s weird to me ’cause seeing that many people that close is not something I’ve seen in a long time; but also, not something I want to see in a pandemic. It’s still a pandemic. They did some work to prove that [the vaccine] prevents the transmission of the virus and that’s something we need. That’s something me and my family needed, and I feel like that’s something lots of other families need. There are people in New Orleans who have killed their grandparents, aunties, and uncles because they kept going to parties and they wasn’t wearing a mask, they wasn’t being any kind of careful. And I don’t want that to be me or us or anybody else around me.

Nobody, yeah.

So again, it’s like two sides to a coin. I do my best to keep up with the facts about the vaccines and the facts about the virus. I keep up with what people sayin’ in the streets too. But I try to find what I can trust in, somewhere in between the two. The night I had the “Shot for Shot” at Dragon’s Den, I had a few friends who had swore they were not taking the vaccine show up and get the shot. I’ve had people who saw me doing the event and hit me up and say, “You know, I went and got a vaccine because of you.” But the fear is still very active. I really think that aside from the many stories of actual mistreatment that we have, I would like to explore the idea that not having been given access to things over the years that help us—especially readily and quickly, as a community, as a race, as a culture—that has to have affected us. That has to have made people feel a way, because if you a kid and they give out snowballs every Friday and they don’t give you one for the first ten Fridays, then one of the Fridays somebody walk up and give you a snowball first, you would ask a question.

Like, something must be wrong with this.

Something must be wrong, dawg, ’cause y’all didn’t do this, y’all skipped over me all them other times.

With mistrust being such a huge issue for our community, what can health care facilities or health care professionals or providers do better to establish trust and increase community awareness?

So, the simple answer is, listen and apply, ’cause I feel like the difference between my experience of going to the doctor or being around my mom… now that me and my sister are old enough to ask questions, whenever she goes to the doctor, one of us is in the room. We’re asking questions, we’re following up, we making sure she understands everything… But also I know what capitalism is. I know what this industry is and how this industry survives. Like, the medical industry survives off of victims. It doesn’t survive off of people being alright. So, to a degree, I don’t know that anything is actually going to change because I feel like the pharmaceutical industry makes all the money. The medical books are sponsored by like, Pfizer or one of them. The medical books aren’t made by Dr. Seuss, the medical books are made by the people that need you to be sick.

What can be done to establish trust because not all health care providers, be it a nurse, respiratory therapist, whatever—not everyone is here to harm. Not everyone is trying to push drugs down people’s throat and make them buy prescriptions, you know what I’m saying?

Right, right. Absolutely. I think, ’cause, any friend that I have that’s a nurse, or any person that I know that’s a nurse is usually the sweetest person ever. You were one of those people. I don’t know if nursing schools like to prey on sweet people or what, [laughs] but it always seems to be like the most caring people are nurses. Doctors on the other hand, it’s different. [laughs]

I feel that Dr. Halperin is a physician who’s not just here for the paycheck, trying to force drugs down people’s throats. He’s actually invested in the well-being of the community.

Yes ma’am. I feel like that every time I’m talking to Dr. Van Sickels [Chief Medical Officer at CrescentCare] or Dr. Halperin, ’cause it’s like, “Yo, y’all really like this.” They’re interested in making people better but also, they’re very interested in proving us wrong. They’re very, very interested in that. I think what may be another issue is that, you know, you might have a Dr. Van Sickels or a Dr. Halperin at an office or in a company, but however the company moves is what the world sees.

I got you. And when you say “prove us wrong” what do you mean?

They showed us they can be trusted… that they’re interested in our health, in us not having to come back. Over the years, I have met doctors who were absolutely interested in patients not coming to see them that often. You know, some people treat it like an oil change—they want you to show up, they waiting on you to show up. But I have met a few doctors or a few people in the medical community who are like, “I don’t want to see you, I want you to be at home doing your best on your own” or whatever. But I don’t always feel like those are the doctors that are accessible to us in the community. Just like you have public defenders, don’t nobody want a public defender. And I feel like there’s a section of the medical space that is, you got public medical care, and it’s just that simple. It’s still medical care but it’s like, chances are if you did it, you’re going to jail. If you almost look like you did it, you’re going to jail. So if you in the public medical community, if you sick or approaching terminal or something, you probably not gonna be that well off. You probably not gonna get the care that’s going to sustain you or heal you; you might get the care that’s gonna get you a regular prescription to something. But again, I feel like you have to rip apart the entire system and rebuild it. And Lord knows they not ripping apart and rebuilding no systems in America—I don’t care which one you point at.

For more information on CrescentCare and DJ RQAway, go to and

Photos by Katie Sikora

Top Photo: DJ RQ Away and Katie Conner, MPH, COVID-19 Vaccine Manager2This title has been updated from the print version, “Care Supervisor Katie Conner” pose together during the “Get it for your Mama” vaccination drive at the Broadside on May 8.

Transcription by Erin Hall and Michelle Pierce

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