On September 7, 2012, my life changed forever upon hearing the loss of a fellow sister in the struggle, Cicely Bolden. I was devastated by the crime and questioned my own thoughts about disclosure and my safety as an HIV positive woman. The idea of someone taking the life of another because of their status, fueled anger, tears, and uncertainty of my own value to society. I had to do something. I just didn't know what.
I sent out a message to one of the family members to convey my condolences and sadness about what happened to Cicely hoping to show there were people out there who did not share in the same beliefs of what the media depicted her to be. As I read many articles, I could see there were so many, positive and non-positive alike who felt she was wrong. How could they have known what Larry Dunn said was true? Was it because of the half-truths being reported?
I received a response from the father of the Cicely's children. They were words of comfort and gratitude. I felt some relief as I shared with him my concerns and I let him know, I would seek out ways to bring honor and dignity to her life. We continued to correspond and I was asked to become the voice of Cicely. I was honored by doing so.
There was soft music piping throughout the room. A huge banner displayed a beautiful picture of the woman she was. Nothing like the picture we were seeing in media outlets, The room was quiet, the lights were dim. Cicely laid in an a beautiful oak casket adorned with gold handles. There was standing room only. Many of her family and friends had to stand outside of the room. As services started, one by one came to the podium to share their personal stories of who she was. Words shared were outgoing, tough, outspoken, honest, loving, caring, mothering, and God-Fearing came out of many of the family and friends who attended. Funny, we didn't hear any of that did we?
Tears flowed from my eyes. I wish I had met her. However, I was able to forge a friendship with her twin sister. I still hadn't walked up to the casket to also say my goodbyes. It was too much of a reality check for me. This could have happened to me. This could have happened to many of us. I finally made it to the podium after much hesitation, shared who I was, and delivered a message of love and support from the many advocacy organizations around the country who were committed in not allowing Cicely to die in vain. I went on to say, we will be there to see this to the end, make no mistake about that and we will come up with a plan of action to change laws so that what happened to Cicely will never happen again. The rights of HIV positive women will be protected.
As it ended, I finally walked up to the casket. There she was... I told her I was sorry for this happening to her. Hot tears started to flow down my face. I whispered, "You will rest in peace".
I wanted to share this with you because, I wanted positive women to not be afraid to disclose their status in spite of all that they have heard and seen. The surest way to end stigma with this disease is by continuing to share our stories of struggles and triumphs. We can end stigma one story at a time. We can end stigma that is associated with this disease. We can create changes in our communities, policy, funding and services provided for positive women if we just open our mouths. Our stories are not our own. There is another positive woman who was just newly diagnosed, like Cicely, waiting to hear her story through us. We cannot allow another woman to fall victim to ignorance and stigma again.
Once we have done our best, shared our stories and begin to live our lives outside of our diagnosis, we can all stand in solidarity and say, "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, HIV positive women are free at last!" Free from shame, guilt, stigma and blame. We are free to be the person we were born to be!
Peace and Love!