I'm sitting on the plane to fly home from my second USCA experience, and what an experience it was. Last year was my first and I remember it to be a much more overwhelming experience. It was so big; it was unlike any conference I had ever been to at that point, there was so much to take in and so many amazing people, like a sea of advocates, providers, and pharmaceutical reps, anyone and everyone playing a role of any kind in this ongoing fight against this damned life-altering virus. From all over the country they come to gather, from different lands and different languages, from different cultures and different beliefs, from different demographics and varying levels of risk, diagnosis, or engagement. Some come with numbers and science while others come with lived experience or boots on the ground in high impact communities, some come with deep and detailed knowledge, while some are only just beginning to learn, yet they come to gather as one.
Don't let me scare you from this conference by saying it was overwhelming, because it's amazing. If you want to prepare for a seat at the table where your voice can be effectively heard and have a meaningful part to play in this fight against HIV/AIDS, this is where you want to be. If you want the best training to sharpen your understanding, to find access to the best tools to benefit your efforts, and build a network of some of the most innovative minds in the field, and have the confidence to share and exchange regardless of your level of expertise, this is where you want to be. This is where you network and rub elbows with the most inspirational people and exchange thoughts with those doing the work all across the country. This is definitely where you want to be if you hate HIV and want to be a part of its demise, for this is a gathering of warriors.
These warriors gather every year, and every year with the same unified goal in mind: to kill… to kill the stigma that people living with HIV face every day, to kill the bureaucracy that stifles progress in treatment and prevention, to kill the barriers to care for the most vulnerable and disenfranchised among us, to kill a virus that brought us together in the first place. They come together to share ideas and report on their victories, that those victories may be replicated; they come together to share their defeats, that lessons may be learned; and they come together in weariness and exuberance that fire may give flame to smoldering embers and that iron may sharpen iron. This is a gathering of warriors.
This year was no different really, except for the fact that now there was an added player at the table, a player that should have been at the table all along in my opinion: the federal government. Sure, you could say that the government has always been at the table, but many might argue with you for various reasons, and I think it could still be argued, but now the government is willing to put more money on the table to feel like they're wearing war paint. Personally I think it's counter productive to fund the warriors while sabotaging some of their biggest battles but now we're going a little deeper than I meant to go for this blog, lol, I'm here to talk about a gathering of warriors, real warriors, 24/7 warriors, all-in warriors, strong, tired, dedicated, conflicted, angry, ready to kick some HIV ass warriors.
These people are the most amazing people you will ever meet, so intelligent, so inspirational, so dedicated. Sometimes you can see the weariness in their eyes, but you will not hear defeat in their voices, voices that are loud and unceasing, voices that are strong on their own but amazingly powerful in unity. Sometimes there's dissent and disagreement among warriors, sometimes there's infighting, because a warrior's passion is a hot fire that can be difficult to control at times, but we must remember that we are warriors of the same tribe, fighting the same enemy. Brothers and sisters and ungendered siblings come together to share strength, and truth, wisdom and passion, love and hate, as one, we come together with a singular desire to kill what threatens our lives, and the life of our tribe, to end the epidemic in the memory of those we've lost and recommit ourselves to the battle we fight everyday. We lick the wounds of our defeats, reenergize our weary souls, and prepare for the battles yet to come. This is a gathering of warriors. This is where you want to be if you hate HIV.
So now this warrior is back home, sitting here alone reminiscing on the memories I gained from the gathering of warriors, contemplating strategies and plans of attack with the knowledge and inspiration I gained at USCA, and preparing to challenge the realities that exist here in my little part of the world with new fire in my heart. I'm a stronger woman for having attended the gathering, more prepared to engage in meaningful ways and recommitted to fight this formidable complex foe and seemingly endless war. Thank you USCA for keeping the drum beat going for the warriors to answer and for a few days to dance together as one around the fire of unified commitment to our common cause. This is a gathering of warriors, and I'm glad I got to be there. It's where I wanted to be because I too hate HIV.