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Advocacy to Empower One Individual After Another

Victory—Jury Candelario accepts an award from local city officials at the opening of the nation’s first bridge housing initiative for transgender women, Los Angeles, 2019. Photo courtesy of Jury Candelario.

SGI-USA member Jury Candelario, of Los Angeles, is a clinical social worker and AIDS advocate. He is the director of an organization that provides culturally affirming social services for vulnerable communities impacted by HIV/AIDS, behavioral health challenges and housing insecurity. He was named a local hero in 2010 by Los Angeles-based television station KCET and a Champion of Change honoree through the presidential “Winning the Future Across America” initiative in 2011. The World Tribune spoke with him about his life as a social worker and a Buddhist.

World Tribune: Thank you for speaking with us. What drew you to advocacy work for those with HIV/AIDS?

Jury Candelario: I discovered in my senior year of high school that my uncle was dying of AIDS. There was shame and stigma of even acknowledging that this was the disease he was suffering from. Everyone talked about how he was dying from cancer, not AIDS. But I knew better.

I got started in HIV advocacy work as part as my own coming-out process. When I turned 18, I was seeing my community impacted by HIV/AIDS. I was always drawn to social justice and felt compelled to go in this direction. I was kind of resolute once I discovered my passion.

WT: When did you discover Buddhism?

Candelario: I was introduced by my now-husband in the late ’90s. I started chanting and received the Gohonzon on New Year’s Day 1999.

I was always seeking [something] spiritual, but I didn’t find that kind of freedom from the spiritual practices that I had been, in a lot of ways, forced into.

Nichiren Buddhism was the one that fit the most. It gave me happiness, contentment with who I am. I didn’t have to seek outside of myself for this larger entity.

WT: How has Buddhism informed your work over the years?

Candelario: There’s definitely a connection between value-creation and social work—this value of compassion, of helping people—not just helping but actually empowering them.

How do you care for others while also caring for yourself? Buddhism teaches you how to do that. It’s all about how I build up and support folks based on their own happiness, self-worth and self-reliance, which is core to social work.

WT: What are some of the greatest challenges you face in providing care to your community?

Candelario: I work with communities that are stigmatized as a result of their sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health and status living with HIV. The challenge is to help address these stigmas, to overcome them, become more self-empowered, self-sufficient. I deal with a lot of clients stuck in this cycle of stigmatization and fear. By bringing about positive change through positive messaging, you can rise above these mental and emotional challenges that you face.

Advocacy work is done in a number of ways: speaking up to legislators, representing your community in spaces where you need to amplify voices that need support and empowerment. Stigmatized communities are often too fearful to speak up and advocate for themselves.

While it may seem like a small thing, just the simple act of asking for help often requires a person to undergo a dramatic inner change before they feel able to do so. And being able to ask for assistance can have an enormous effect on their life. The question I am always asking is, “How can I help this individual become self-reliant and empowered?”

One personal challenge has been how to take a step back and see how can I support this person where they are. How to meet them where they are at and help them take the next step.

WT: What are some of the impacts of your organization’s services?

Candelario: In the thick of the pandemic, we opened four housing programs, providing transitional as well as permanent housing to over 200 individuals. This summer we’re opening two more housing programs.

WT: That’s incredible. You were named a local hero by KCET. What does this mean to you?

Candelario: I think of it as a collective effort. It means something beyond this individual accolade. It’s about making an impact in the community. Often people are not comfortable talking about these social health issues. I think you could call this award a victory of raising awareness and bringing about higher-level advocacy. It brings visibility to an uncomfortable topic.

WT: Is there a passage from Ikeda Sensei that you draw strength from?

Candelario: “In most cases, our so-called limitations are nothing more than our own decision to limit ourselves” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 1, p. 196). When I’m fearful of undertaking a new challenge, I think, Oh, Jury, is this just your own fear? This quote from Sensei has been my mantra.

I’m a late bloomer in terms of academia. I’m challenging myself now, having just started a doctoral program this year. I’m in my mid-40s, and I undertook this challenge. There isn’t an age limitation while I’m still doing my mission of social service.

WT: What is your ultimate goal with advocacy work?

Candelario: The future of advocacy for me is: The cycle of empowering oneself to empower an individual so they can empower another. How do you help one person make an impact so they can have a positive impact on the larger population and society as a whole?

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