Our Story

Founded by Dr. Pernessa C. Seele, The Balm In Gilead, Inc. was created to uplift and enlighten people of color. Presently, the organization continues its mission to build and strengthen the capacity of faith communities in the United States and the United Republic of Tanzania (East Africa) to deliver programs and services that contribute to eliminating health disparities among people of the Black Diaspora. Celebrating over 33 years of service, Dr. Seele continues to surround herself with those who believe in her vision and rally around her to execute her dreams of empowering the African American and African communities.




October 1989 – The Harlem Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS was a little idea of Pernessa C. Seele, that transpired while working at Harlem Hospital. Dr. Seele grew emotionally devastated by the lack of care and compassion shown by the faith community toward people living and dying of AIDS. One morning while getting ready to go to work, her small studio apartment lite up with a spiritual mandate: Mobilize the faith community of Harlem to address the suffering of so many from AIDS. In that celestial moment, The Harlem Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS was born. This “little idea” was the birth of a national and international movement of engaging faith leaders and communities in strategic, community planning and implementing faith-based services to address HIV and all health disparities impacting people of the African Diaspora.

The Harlem week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS was the flame that gathered five religious sectors together to begin to openly talk about the devastation of the AIDS epidemic and its impact on the Black community of Harlem. This now historical AIDS awareness campaign ushered in a paradigm shift for the inclusion of faith communities in developing and implementing public health awareness strategies in communities of color both in the United States and abroad.

1993: The 5th Annual Harlem Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS launches The Black Church National Education and Leadership Training Conference on AIDS at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Harlem, NY). Opening Keynote speaker was Jonathan Mann, MD, Global Acclaimed pioneer of the international campaign against AIDS; First director of the World Health Organization Global Program on AIDS; Founding Director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.

1993: The Black Church National Day of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS is launched and becomes a public health model for engaging specific populations in addressing HIV/AIDS. These campaigns include: The Black AIDS HIV/AIDS Awareness Day; Asian & Pacific Islanders HIV/AIDS Awareness Day; National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, in addressing the AIDS epidemic.

1994: The Balm In Gilead Inc. is incorporated and becomes the First Non-Profit with the exclusive mission to build the capacity of existing faith leaders and faith communities throughout the African Diaspora to address a major health issue through prayer, education, advocacy and services.

1994: The White House host The Balm In Gilead for the first historical African American Religious Leaders Summit on HIV/AIDS. The African American Clergy’s Declaration of War on HIV/AIDS is signed by over 50 African American clergy attending the White House Summit. The Declaration of War on HIV/AIDS is mounted on the wall of congregations throughout the USA.

1996: Jessye Norman Sings for The Healing of AIDS, becomes a celebrated AIDS Benefit with acclaimed artists – Maya Angelou, Whoopi Goldberg, Elton John, Bill T. Jones, Toni Morrison, Max Roach, Anna Deavere Smith, George C. Wolfe (Director); Robert Wilson (Stage designer) and Carolina Herrera (Fashion designer) joining Opera singer Jessye Norman at the Riverside Church in the City of New York for a special performance to benefit The Balm In Gilead Inc.

1997: The Black Church National Day of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS is expanded to The Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS with endorsements from the leadership of more than 17 National Black Church Denominations.

1997: The Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS is recognized by the CDC and replicated in partnership with organizations located in Nashville, TN; Richmond, VA; Oakland, CA; Atlanta, GA; Kansas City, MO. This replication network grew to over 77 partnering organizations throughout the US.

1997: The Balm In Gilead publishes Though I Stand At The Door And Knock: Discussions on the Black Church Struggle With Homosexuality & AIDS

1998: The Balm In Gilead host The Black Church Speaks! AIDS: A National Emergency in the African American Community gathers some of the nation’s most influential Black religious leaders to speak out on AIDS at the Historical Mother AME Zion Church in Harlem. Religious leaders included: Bishop T. D. Jakes; Rev. Dr. Robert M. Franklin; Dr. Dennis Dickerson; Rev. Canon Frederick B. Williams; Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr.; Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colemon.



2000: The Black Church HIV/AIDS Institute is held at Tuskegee University and is recognized as a definitive national training forum for African American clergy on HIV/AIDS.

2000: From Harlem to Soweto (South Africa) The Balm In Gilead’s first global effort to connect the African and African American communities’ fight against HIV/AIDS, through a LIVE joint-simulcast of two worship services. Harlem and Soweto’s congregation connected to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS on two different continents.

2000: Our Church Lights the Way: The Black Church HIV Testing Campaign is launched resulting in over 300% increase in faith-based HIV testing and increased care services. The first HIV/AIDS awareness and testing social marketing campaign targeting African Americans.

2000: The Balm In Gilead expands its mission to six African countries and launches its Africa HIV/AIDS Faith Initiative in Cote d’ Ivorie, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe

2003: The Balm In Gilead’s Faith Based HIV Community Mobilization model is recognized by both the US Centers for Disease Control and the President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The model is translated to other disease state awareness campaigns.

2003: The Balm In Gilead host faith leaders from the national headquarters of Catholic, Protestant and Muslim organizations from six African countries for its Africa HIV/AIDS Faith Initiative Six-Week Training Institute in New York City.

2003: Legendary Singer Nancy Wilson presents A Holiday Evening at the Waldorf, a benefit performance for The Balm In Gilead.

2005: The Balm In Gilead establishes the Tanzania Interfaith Partnership, forging a collaboration with the three national religious organizations to fight AIDS in Tanzania. The religious organizations were: TEC (Tanzania Episcopal Conference), CCT (Christian Council of Tanzania) and BAKWATA (Muslim Counsel of Tanzania) as well as, the Office of the Mutfi of Zanzibar.

2005: Launched the African American Denominational Leadership Health Initiative, a partnership between the Balm In Gilead and the National Women’s Missionary Societies of three historical Black church denominations: The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME); The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (CME).

2005: The Balm In Gilead establishes and incorporates The Balm In Gilead – Tanzania, as its international headquarters in Dar es Salam, Tanzania.

2006: The Balm In Gilead moves its headquarters from New York, NY to Richmond, VA.

2006: The Balm In Gilead publishes The Black Church Speaks! A collection of Historical Sermons on HIV/AIDS by African American preachers.

2006: Founder/CEO, Pernessa Seele, becomes a TIME 100 recipient and featured on the Cover of TIME Magazine as One of the Most Influential Persons in the World

2006: The ISIS Project (Intimate Sessions for Informed Sexuality) is launched to educate and empower Black women about cervical cancer and HPV. The ISIS Project is launched in conjunction with The African American Denominational Leadership Health Initiative.

2007: President George W. Bush invites founder/CEO, Pernessa Seele to the State of the Union to emphasize the role for Faith-based organizations in addressing AIDS and to highlight the success of PEPFAR in Africa.

CDC-Tanzania selects The Balm In Gilead’s HIV/AIDS Islamic program to be visited by First Lady Laura Bush.

2008: Our Church Lights the Way HIV Testing Campaign is translated for use in Africa and becomes Our Faith Lights the Way HIV Testing Campaign, with the full participation and recognition of National faith leaders and the President of the Republic of Tanzania. The campaign and all educational resources were successfully translated into Swahili.

2008: The Balm In Gilead establishes The African American Church Inaugural Ball in honor of the Election of Barack H. Obama, as the 44th President of the United States. A historical compilation of Black history was commemorated to the words of Lift Every Voice and Sing for this memorious occasion.

The Balm In Gilead also honored distinguished individuals as Keepers Of The Flame at this occasion. The honorary were: The Right Rev. John Hurst Adams; Maya Angelou; Robert J. Brown; Johnnetta B. Cole; Marian Wright Edelman; John Hope Franklin; Earl Graves; William H. Gray, III; The Right Rev. Barbara Harris; Dorothy Height; Alexis Herman; Benjamin Hooks; Congressman John Lewis; Rev. Joseph Lowery; Marc H. Morial; General Colin L. Powell; Della Reese-Lett; Rev. Al Sharpton; Rev. Dr. Gardener C. Taylor; Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu and Rev. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker.



2011: The African American Denominational Leadership Health Initiative receives a US Congressional Citation, being recognized as the first in US history to merge three historical Black Church denominations joined together with non-profit organization for the provision of technical assistance to address health disparities within African American communities.

2013: The Balm In Gilead host its 2nd The African American Church Inaugural Ball on the occasion of the Re-election of President Barack H. Obama. The Keepers of the Flame Award was bestowed upon: Andrae E. Crouch; Hugh Masekela; Jessye Norman; Cicely Tyson; Ruby Dee; Muhammed Ali; Dr. Joycelyn Elders; Dr. Beny J. Primm; Ed Dwight; Elaine R. Jones; Vernon E. Jordan, Sr.; The Right Rev. George E. Battle, Jr.; The Right Rev. Philip R. Cousin, Sr.; The Right Rev. William H. Graves, Sr.; Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale; Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr.

2014: The first Annual Healthy Churches 2020 Conference was established as a skill-building, national gathering of faith and public health leaders to seek solutions to dismantling health disparities in the African American community. Now known as The Healthy Churches 2030 Conference.

2015: The National Brain Health Center for African Americans is established to raise awareness of the issues affecting cognitive health among African Americans via the capacity development of African Americans congregations to become an integral partner in prevention, disease management, caregiving and engagement in clinical studies.

2017: Memory Sunday is launched, as a designated annual Sunday on the ‘Second Sunday’ of June within congregations serving African Americans to bring national attention to the tremendous burden that Alzheimer’s and other Dementias place on the African American community.

2017: The Southeast Diabetes Faith Initiative is launched in 5 Southern States — Virginia, North Carolina; South Carolina; Georgia; and Alabama – to expand access and utilization of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), National Diabetes Prevention Program. The Balm In Gilead expands its organizational structure to include State Managers, Program Coordinators and Life Style Coaches in each state.



2021: The 8th Annual Healthy Churches 2030 Conference is recognized as one of the most important conferences of the year focusing on health disparities among African Americans.