One day in 2013, I wrote these words in a journal, "Don't you wish a rapper would offer up a hip-hop version or critique of the latest Supreme Court antics surrounding the Voting Rights Act?" After all, aren't we all more than a little appalled by Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia saying that a critical part of the law regarding the Voting Rights Act was a perpetuation of "racial entitlement." People died so that discrimination at the polling places could end, yet a Supreme Court Justice said that. That statement, that day, made me think of racial profiling, stop and frisk policies, environmental racism (think Flint, Michigan, or the poisoning of water in East St. Louis due to Monsanto chemicals), the school to prison pipeline, and this was 2013. This was before we dreamed Michael Brown would be murdered by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Then Philando Castille, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and don't forget Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice, and so many more names were etched on our hearts as we saw evidence of "No justice, no peace."
I thought about the days I stood in front of high school students and taught about the March for Voting Rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I thought about learning and teaching about Juneteenth Day, and making sure students still remembered what happened to Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, and the Little Rock Nine, Brown versus the Board of Education, and the Letters From Birmingham jail.
Today I'm reading these words I wrote in 2013. It's now 2019. I have graduated from seminary and was picked as one of the POZ 100 in 2018, celebrating people 50 and over! One thing written about me was this, "Susan received an award two years in a row for the student whose social justice work most represents the connection between church and society." Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw is correct, intersectionality shows up everywhere. You can't keep the sacred part of yourself separated from all that is secular. There is still so much stigma surrounding HIV and so much discrimination shown toward people living with HIV. Instead of 64% of all women living with HIV in the United States being women of color, the statistic is now 72%. At this point I thought of my voice, and how my story could free up women who believe their voice and their story doesn't matter. I helped to lead a workshop on authentic storytelling at the Speak Up Summit, the first year it was at Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. We all practiced telling our own truths and sharing them out loud. We wept together, and found out we had so much in common. I have continued this work and have taken part in PWN's White Women Dismantling Racism, and have encouraged others to jump into this work and break down barriers.
I am still reading my journal and words I wrote in 2013, but today, in 2019, it seems overt racist acts are now sanctioned by the occupant in the White House. We had eight Obama years, and amazing activists who served on PACHA, the President's Advisory Council for HIV and AIDS. This brilliant group of advisors was disbanded because the current President refused to acknowledge that this group had all the information he would need to eradicate the stigma surrounding HIV and to end AIDS! He refused to take advice from these brilliant advisors because it seems he was, and is still, more comfortable with dehumanizing people living with HIV and keeping all of us in the margins. People resigned from PACHA before he disbanded this group, and before he could poison them with his brand of negativity.
The trifecta of poverty, racism, and the stigma still keeps many from getting diagnosed in time for the medications to work the way they should, yet we have U=U. If your viral load is undetectable, it has been scientifically proven that it is impossible for you to transmit HIV to anyone, hence Undetectable equals Untransmittable! We need to get all this good news out to people who haven't been tested. We need to make sure people know the science and aren't still clinging to mythologies that have long since been proven wrong! We now use people first language, and that wasn't always occurring in 2013. We are people living with HIV, not HIV infected people, and we remind everyone that HIV doesn't define any of us. Being intrepid, being courageous, that defines us. Being bold, yet compassionate and intelligent, we keep inspiring each other. In one twenty-line poem, I'd like to share this:
I'd Like To Be
I'd like to be the human archive of all the discoveries,
She who holds grief and sorrow,
She who epitomizes courage and dares to tell Her story in the halls of the Senate Building
And gets arrested with 169 others.
She marches and speaks at conferences and
Works with sisters dismantling racism and always reminds those
Who don't know that HIV Is Not A Crime and
HIV never defines any of us and
We will end AIDS!
I'd like to be alive on the day,
The pronouncement is made of the cure,
And tears will flow for those not with us.
If I could be a prophet and healer
I'd give you my Tibetan bowl and let the sound,
The vibrations enhance your wellness, and every day
This litany would be heard:
Teach the world people first language for all deserve to be treated with dignity,
Don't stop being intrepid and know,
You, the human archive, have been loved.