World AIDS Day 2011 in Tulsa, OK

By Rob Banaszak on January 3, 2012 in AmeriCorps, Community Partnerships, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, World AIDS Day

OttWorld AIDS Day was certainly a long one this year, as there were two events going on in Tulsa. Instead of picking one, Team Tulsa decided to do them both! First we attended Tulsa CARES’ annual World AIDS Day Symposium. Tulsa CARES is an HIV/AIDS organization that works with HIV-positive people living in poverty. Then we went to Tulsa’s World AIDS Day program and premiere of “We Were Here,” a documentary about the early days of AIDS epidemic in San Francisco and how the city responded.

At the symposium, we learned about issues from a wide variety of sources facing people living with HIV/AIDS  in Tulsa . The first presenter, Jim Ott, talked to us about the “rush to judgment” that we fight against in our work with HIV. Then we had a panel of health experts talk about current and promising medical advances, including new drugs and trials. It was very informative, especially hearing from our HIV-positive audience members and learning their health concerns.

harrisonAfter lunch, Dr. Timothy Harrison from the  US Department of Health and Human Services explained how the National HIV/AIDS Strategy was created and how it would affect Oklahoma. Christopher Grano from the Northern Colorado AIDS Project talked to us about taking stigma out of our prevention materials. Instead of using scare tactics that make people living with HIV seem evil, negligent, or dangerous, he wants us to put people first and have sex-positive prevention materials that focus on good behaviors (getting tested, wearing condoms, not discriminating against people with HIV, etc). Our last presenter asked us to be mindful of the ethics in how we share information about clients with other agencies. Even though sharing might be legal through releases or lack of laws, it might not be ethical. The whole program helped us professionally and personally and was a good reminder that we have the information and medications to end AIDS.

At the candlelight vigil, we had a chance to remember our co-workers, clients, and friends with HIV who have passed. Then we went inside the independent movie theater to listen to stories from Tulsa’s early response to the HIV epidemic. We had a lot of former AmeriCorps site supervisors and an AmeriCorps member from the first team talk about their experiences at the beginning of the epidemic and their hopes for the future. There were lots of people dying in Oklahoma at the beginning, and Ric Harrison, a former AmeriCorps member, was a part of a VNA hospice group that help ease the passing of Tulsans with AIDS. Janice Nicklas, our city supervisor, talked about founding TCAP, Tulsa Community AIDS Project, and Tulsa CARES. It was good for the AmeriCorps team to hear these stories of the beginning of the epidemic since none of us had been born during that time. Hearing all the stories and hopes for the future made us feel more committed to the cause. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the epidemic, but there’s still a lot more to do!

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