(1942 - living) U.S.A.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kessler has been an ironworker, a small businessman, a seminarian and a community organizer. He has a long history of activism and social action grounded in his Catholic faith. In 1960, after high school, he briefly studied for the priesthood before getting involved full time in social activism.
Kessler founded and directed Project Appalachia, an anti-poverty program, from 1966- 1968. The Meals-on-Wheels program he started in McKees Rock, Pennsylvania, still operates today. As co-founder and director of Pittsburgh's Thomas Merton Center from 1970-1973, he took an active role in the the civil rights, anti-poverty, and anti-war movements.
Kessler continued his activism at Boston's Paulist Center from 1973-1979, where he expanded the Walk for Hunger into the year-round anti-hunger program Project Bread. During Boston's desegregation crisis in 1974, Kessler served as a bus monitor to help Boston kids get to school safely.
While running a successful business in 1982, Kessler first heard of a mysterious illness striking gay men. He and others met at the Fenway Community Health Clinic to discuss the crisis, and AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts was born. Kessler became its first employee in 1983, and now is the longest-serving director of any AIDS group in the country.
Kessler has advised mayors, governors, and the White House on AIDS policy. In 1989, he was nominated by the U.S. Senate to serve on the National Commission on AIDS, which issued reports critical of the Administration's response to the epidemic. He has served on numerous boards, including those of the AIDS Action Council, the National AIDS Network, and the Harvard AIDS Institute. Kessler's and AIDS Action's achievements have been recognized through countless local, state, and national awards.
Kessler served as AIDS Action's Executive Director from 1983 until early 2002, when he moved into the Founding Director's role at the agency. Under his leadership, AIDS Action started and still runs the Commonwealth's statewide AIDS hotline; challenged the MBTA in court to run explicit AIDS prevention ads, and won; and secured Medicaid coverage for poor people with HIV, as well as many other progressive public policies. AIDS Action now employs nearly 100 people, serves 2,400 men, women, and children living with HIV, and educates thousands more around the state.