Each week in 2019, we're highlighting someone in the College of Public Health—students, alumni, researchers and beyond—for a feature we're calling Public Health in Focus. Click the photo below for a portrait of Samir Holliday, a certified psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner, or read on for the full interview.
Q: Where are you from?
A: West Philadelphia—Born and raised in Philly.
Q: How did you get started in public health?
I started out at the University of Maryland then transferred to Temple to complete my degree...I identify as being a part of the LGBTQI community, and I knew I wanted to work with people with HIV and AIDS and STIs, so I focused on that in my internships. I started at AccessMatters doing outreach for the HIV/AIDS community in the Gayborhood. I knew I wanted to work in HIV and AIDS because I knew how it affected African American men. I’m part of that population, so I wanted to make a difference.
Q: What do you do in your role at COMHAR?
A: I work in the community living room, a psychiatric rehabilitation program. Right now I have a caseload, I run groups, and I take individuals into the community to help them find new ways to live and enjoy their lives clean and sober while managing their mental illness and HIV and/or AIDS status. I just try to support people, be a part of their lives and help them be their best selves while managing their illness.
Q: The population you work with often faces a number of challenges. What are some of the ways you look to help them?
A: I get to know the individual first. I learn where they come from, their walk of life, and what brought them to the program, and then I figure out how I can support them and move forward with their recovery goals. To see individuals come in, maybe feeling broken due to an HIV status and dealing with the stigma that comes along with the virus—we’ve come a long way in HIV and AIDS but the work is not over. There are not many HIV-specific day programs in the United States, so it’s an honor to be able to work at such a specific and unique program.
Public health is all about prevention, so that’s what I always thought I would be doing. It’s unique working here, because I’m actually working with people who are already affected, but by working with them I actually am still working in prevention, just in a different capacity.
Q: Do you have a favorite Temple memory?
A: My favorite Temple memory—one of them, I have many—was part of a therapeutic recreation class I took as an elective. It was called Adventure Climbing, and we went out into the woods about an hour-and-a-half drive away, and we spent the weekend doing rope courses and team-building activities. I think that was one of the most meaningful experiences that I’ve had, and I was able to see the benefit that nature brings to individuals. I’ve been able to use those things here as a group facilitator.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
A: I love to travel, and I love to spend time with friends and family. Working in HIV and AIDS has been a blessing for me, because I have been able to help not only myself as a gay man but individuals in my circle as well. Being in the LGBTQI community, my friends often come to me with questions. I’ve had friends who get a diagnosis, and I’m the first person they call; not necessarily because I’m the most trustworthy or their number one support, but because they know that I will be able to support them, and they know I’ll be a listening ear and that I’ll have empathy and knowledge.
Samir is a certified psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner at COMHAR, a human services organization that serves Philadelphia, Montgomery and Northampton Counties. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Public Health in 2008. Check out all of the Public Health in Focus portraits so far.
— Photography by Andrew Thayer