"Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined." –Toni Morrison.
When I ran across this quote I felt it was appropriate to tie into what I experienced during this year's AIDSWATCH, because it defined my six years of HIV living with me. At this year's conference I celebrated six years of being told I was HIV positive and reaching the undetectable = untransmittable status. So this year's AIDSWATCH for me was sentimental. I celebrated by reflecting on my first AIDSWATCH I attended in 2016 where I shared my story openly with a bunch of strangers and decided to not be the victim but be the advocate and speak out against stigma, and for affordable health care and civil rights for people living with HIV face, on the daily.
My first AIDSWATCH I got to listen to Maria Mejia speak. First of all, she is an amazing kick ass advocate and a woman of color whose story amazed me and empowered me at the same time. So when The Well Project afforded me the opportunity I was excited, but the icing on the cake was that I was paired up with Maria in a room, which was truly an honor. Talking to her was like talking to my older sister which she became day one on meeting her. She shared her wisdom, guidance, and support, the things that a newbie advocate like myself needs. From those couple of days, I learned so much and formed an unbreakable sisterhood bond that means a lot to me.
The breakout sessions
The breakout sessions were really hard to choose from because each of them held great value and information. But the first break out session that I chose was the Southern AIDS Coalition. A lot of you may wonder why I chose this one. Well, for one I am from the south; I live in rural North Carolina so enough said. If you look at the south our numbers in new HIV cases are high and I needed this break out session to know how much these numbers impacted my rural community and what is the best tactic to use to help educate my community on this subject matter.
My next break out session was Black Women and HIV! Is Love Greater Than Our Fears? What A Difference 90 Days Makes. The reason I picked this particular session is because I am scared as hell to get back out there and date. It's already hard as hell to date as a woman who is getting ready to turn forty but add your status. You become a hermit crab because you don't want to be judged or stigmatized as well. So for this workshop they showed a short twenty minute film called 90 days. I loved this film because the woman in the film was just like me: educated, didn't have multiple sex partners, not a drug user (the things that let's face it people link to HIV - stigma). It told her story of her journey of dating and when is the right time to tell the person you are dating your status and how to go about telling them. Afterwards, a panel of amazing educated women of color shared their experiences and wisdom from other advocates who shared their experiences. Also for me this was empowering and freeing at the same time because it helped me to realize I AM ENOUGH! I AM AMAZING! and whoever dates me will get someone amazing who is strong, confident, hardworking, with a big heart. The way this workshop has helped me is to prepare me for getting back out there and date again and not to be afraid to enjoy life (HIV living with me does not mean I have to crawl under a rock and die or feel like I have the plague).
What I took away from this conference
I think the most important things I took away from this conference are that we advocates made some powerful moves to affect change, not only on a national level but in our communities across the fifty states. We made a statement: nothing for us without us, which means our paid officials are not allowed anymore to decide our fate or stigmatize us because of our status. I know for me I took a stand to make it known, yes, we need change, but more support is needed for women of color and we also need a seat at the table.
"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." –Maya Angelou