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The Importance of Community Based Organizations for Women and Girls

Priya
By Priya Rajkumar, Vice President of Client Health Services, Metro Wellness and Community Centers
On March 10th each year, National Women’s and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day brings to the forefront the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. The unique challenges women face from partner violence, lack of child care, and absence of support and hope are issues which are often overlooked. Not to mention the impact of poverty and limited resources that is in the mix to manage.

Metro Wellness and Community Centers (Metro) has for so long understood the tremendous impact of these issues on women and girls. Providing gender responsive programming to help support, empower, and provide hope to women and girls infected and affected by HIV/AIDS has been a successful strategy in helping women to overcome numerous barriers to attain good health and stability in their lives. I am grateful to be part of the difference that Metro makes in the lives of the many women we serve. However, there is much more work to be done.

The theme for NWGHAAD “Share Knowledge, Take Action” holds true each and every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of the end of 2010, one in four people living with a diagnosis of HIV infection in the United States were women. Black/African American women and Latinas are disproportionately affected by HIV infection compared with women of other races/ethnicities. Of the total number of new HIV infections among women in the United States in 2010, 64% occurred in blacks/African Americans, 18% were in whites, and 15% were in Hispanics/Latinas.

CBOs must continue to focus on at-risk women, including those who are left to support and care for children whose father is incarcerated, as well as women and girls who, because of their own criminal background, are struggling to find a job, cannot find adequate housing, and cannot afford proper nutrition for their children, much less find child care so that they can take time to seek medical care.

It is critical that community based organizations (CBOs) and advocacy groups continue to keep the discussion active around the issues women and girls with HIV/AIDS are living with every day. Many like Metro are effective in helping women and girls achieve good health outcomes through services like medical case management, support groups, behavioral health care, and much more. These CBOs offer expertise in finding innovative means to reach women and girls in their communities to provide education about HIV testing, prevention, and treatment options.

Metro, as a member of the AIDS United Public Policy Community, relies on the advocacy efforts of this body to share the very real successes happening in the field and to keep the discussion of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls active. Without the advocacy, education and joint efforts, this very important work would not be able to continue.

As we host our own events and participate in other community events on NWAGHAAD, let’s strive to keep the awareness and recognition of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls at the forefront of our discussions and encourage each other to take action towards reducing the burden of HIV/AIDS among women and girls.

Team Detroit; World AIDS Day at Spirit of Hope

World AIDS Day is observed annually on December 1st with the goal of raising global awareness of HIV and the AIDS pandemic. In 2013, the World AIDS Day theme was “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation”, highlighting the fact that an AIDS-free generation requires cooperation both within and between communities. Keeping this theme in mind, the Detroit AIDS United team partnered with Spirit of Hope Church for its commemoration service on December 1.
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The commemoration service gave attendees a chance to honor loved ones by writing their names on red pieces of cloth and included several speakers who shared their experiences with HIV. One man spoke about the cultural shift that he observed away from the carefree, sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s as the HIV pandemic grew. As he saw his otherwise healthy friends and family fall victim to HIV, he realized that he had to both take responsibility for his own health as well as accept those around him who were affected by the virus. Acceptance, rather than toleration, is the key to eliminating AIDS as it lessens the negative stigma surrounding the virus. By lessening the fear around the virus, more people feel encouraged to get tested, and people living with HIV build the confidence that they need to fight the virus. This confidence manifests itself by helping people stick to treatment plans and practice less risky behaviors more consistently. Acceptance is a way of taking responsibility for eliminating AIDS, which is shared by everyone.

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Another woman spoke about her struggles with receiving acceptance and support after her initial diagnosis with HIV. She was four-months pregnant when she was tested positive for HIV by her doctor. She was neither informed of her options nor given any pre or post test counseling. She was essentially given her diagnosis and left to fend for herself. From there, she had problems receiving acceptance from her family members. Her story left a particularly powerful impact on me, as an HIV counselor. It reminded me that my work does hold meaning and can have strong effects on how my clients act after being tested. Despite the fact that some clients seem unresponsive to risk reduction strategies, just being a listening ear for someone to talk to about their concerns can give them a sense of comfort and empower them to make more informed decisions in the future.

The Detroit AIDS United team participated at the commemoration by helping with set up and directing/welcoming attendees to Spirit of Hope. We also partnered with Affirmations as part of the Facing AIDS campaign. Facing AIDS is a website that posts pictures of people with signs explaining why they are facing AIDS. The goal of the campaign is to put faces to the virus, eliminate the negative stigma around HIV, and explain why people take action in the fight against HIV. At the commemoration service, our team encouraged attendees to make their own signs stating their reasons for fighting AIDS and hung them up in the church. We also took pictures of participants with their signs if they agreed to do so. Hanging these signs up helped bring the commemoration attendees together by participating in a common activity. People also noticed common themes in their reasons for facing AIDS, such as love for their communities and desire to reduce stigmatization.

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Overall, World AIDS Day impacted the Detroit Americorps team as much as we impacted the people at the commemoration service. We heard fresh perspectives on the importance of sharing responsibility for HIV and are excited to use these new ideas in our work at our agencies as the year progresses.

Team Chicago Makes A Difference!

On Saturday, October 26th, Team Chicago traveled to Chicago’s far west side to serve the Lewis School of Excellence in Austin, one of the city’s high-need neighborhoods. We worked alongside City Year Chicago and 300 other AmeriCorps members, community residents, parents, and teachers to “make a difference” by beautifying and organizing the school.

The Lewis School of Excellence is an AULS (Academy for Urban School Leadership) turnaround school. This means that the AULS has taken a school that has been chronically failing for years and has transformed it into a high-performing institution. They’ve put new trained leadership into the schools, from the principal to the teachers, and instated a new curriculum, with the hope that the school will become more successful. It only made sense that as the AULS transformed the students and staff, our team could heMLK Quotelp transform the learning environment which they inhabit each week.

Volunteers spent the day painting several murals around the school’s hallways and organizing the school’s library. Our team’s specific project was to help with the murals. When we first entered the building, the hallways didn’t have much art or color, aside from a few bulletin boards. Our team adorned the wall with paw prints (the school’s mascot is a Lion), portraits and quotes from influential African American leaders, an outline of Chicago’s famous skyline, and a wall of chalkboard paint where students could share their dreams for their futures.
Eric and Kassndra's New City

I am definitely a person who loves art projects and seeing color added to any space, so I was excited to bAnna and the Chalkboarde involved. A few hours into the project, as I carefully tried to stay within the lines of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote I had been assigned to paint, I wondered if the kids would truly notice and appreciate the colorful additions and effort that were being put into making the school beautiful. Later, as we sat in the school’s auditorium for the closing ceremony, their football team arrived back from a game (they won!) and walked around the school to see all the new artwork. They were honestly amazed at what we had done for the school, and they were so excited! In that moment, I really was able to see what an impact we had made on the Lewis School and its students.

Theresa and the Paw Prints

The kids at this school will come to a different school on Monday than the one they left on Friday. Their new school is filled with art and color and quotes that capture the strength and diversity of the Austin community. And who knows, maybe these murals will inspire ]a student at the school to learn something new or want to paint a mural of their own? Regardless, Team Chicago was proud to be a part of something that will be a presence in the Lewis School of Excellence for years to come.

Team Chicago!

Make a Difference Day in Cleveland

 

        It is nearing the end of October and all of us here on Team Cleveland are getting in to the swing of things at our placements and keeping busy with our work. On Saturday, though, we set all of that aside for the day to focus on making a difference in our community. We planned two service opportunities for the day, one at the Eliza Bryant Village and the other at the Zelma George Shelter in Cleveland.

The Eliza Bryant Village is a skilled nursing facility that provides different levels of care for senior citizens with a focus on compassion and quality of care. As a team, we participated in their Saturday Social. We started the morning off by playing Pokeno (Bingo, except with playing cards), and then spent time talking with the residents over snacks and more games. This was an enjoyable experience for many reasons. It was a lot of fun to be in the midst of the excitement when somebody would call out “Pokeno!” but it was also nice just to sit and listen to people’s stories and sit in the comfort of somebody else’s presence. This experience was a reminder of how valuable the knowledge and experiences of our older generations are, and how humbling it is to be in their presence. I think this experience impacted our community because it created connections between us as a team, and all of the people that we met that day at Eliza Bryant. There is something to be said for the importance of human connection and giving each other the time to sit, listen, laugh, and just be with each other.

In the afternoon, we as a team headed over to the Zelma George Family Shelter to help facilitate the Fall Festival. We arrived and helped with the set up in the gym. This included getting pin the nose on the Jack-O-Latern hung up, setting up pumpkin bowling and getting the snack table ready with pumpkin cookies and apple cider, while getting all the craft making material out and ready to go for mask-making. With all of that preparation, nothing could have prepared us for the high energy levels of the children who came running and screaming with excitement into the gym, ready to get Fall Festival started. It was immediate controlled chaos. All of the children went running to each station, checking out all of their options with sheer excitement. After all of the children had gone through each different game, made a sparkly mask,  and snacked on their share of cookies and apple cider, the event dispersed into other games, a popular one being jump rope. The afternoon was certainly a high energy one, but it is certainly rewarding to be a part of the process of getting children to run around, care-free and laughing, while their parents get to sit back and take a break while making their own masks while enjoying the snacks. I think this service opportunity had an impact on the community by providing a fun event for the children in the shelter related to the upcoming holiday season and festivities.

Festive Halloween masks from the craft table at the Fall Festival.

Festive Halloween masks from the craft table at the Fall Festival.

Overall, this day of service was an impactful one that reinforced the importance of compassion, generosity, and recognizing that each person, old and young, has their own important story to share with the world. It was a humbling day that served as a reminder of the strength that people have to share, to love, and to survive. It was an inspiration to continue doing quality work everyday and to remember that this is about making this world a better place for everyone, in all walks of life.

 

All of us at the end of Make a Difference Day!

All of us at the end of Make a Difference Day!

What the Supreme Court’s Decision in Shelby Means for Voting Rights

Wade Henderson

By Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Supreme Court’s decision on June 25 in Shelby County v. Holder will have a real and detrimental impact on the voting rights of Americans. The Court dealt a significant blow to civil and human rights. As such, all Americans should be concerned about what this means for the continued health of our democracy.

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) has long been considered the most successful civil rights law Congress ever passed. Section 5 of the VRA played a critical role for decades in stopping voting discrimination against racial minorities.

Shelby County, Alabama, challenged Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which requires state and local jurisdictions with a history and ongoing record of voting discrimination to receive preclearance from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C., before any voting-related change can take effect. The Court did not rule on the constitutionality of Section 5. Instead, the 5-4 majority ruled that Section 4a, which determines which jurisdictions are covered under Section 5, was unconstitutional. The decision effectively shuts down Section 5 until Congress creates a new formula for deciding which parts of the country are subject to preclearance.

What’s most alarming about this decision is the fact that a narrow majority of the Court substituted its political judgment for that of Congress, which in 2006, during the last reauthorization of the VRA, held extensive hearings and gathered mountains of evidence in determining that the coverage formula in Section 4 remained essential. Congress conducted more than 20 hearings, heard from more than 50 expert witnesses, and collected more than 17,000 pages of testimony. A coalition of civil and human rights groups, RenewtheVRA.org (which included my organization, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights), commissioned and submitted for the congressional record reports that detailed the continued voting discrimination in all of the states covered by Section 5 .

Without Section 5 in effect, we have lost an important tool in stopping voting discrimination against racial minorities before it happens. While the VRA still stands, the only way to combat voting discrimination now is to file a lawsuit after the damage has already been done. This is costly and doesn’t actually do what the VRA was always intended to do – deter bad actors from discriminating against minority voters.

Just last year alone, Section 5 blocked discriminatory voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, and prevented Texas from drawing political boundaries that discriminated against African-American and Latino voters.

Our fears about a nation without an operational Section 5 have already proven true. The decision isn’t even a month old and we’re already seeing states like North Carolina introduce voter ID bills that will disproportionately keep minorities from being able to cast a ballot for their candidate of choice and curtailing early
voting. Within hours of the Court’s decision Texas’s attorney general announced that the discriminatory ID law that had been blocked by Section 5 would take effect immediately.

The danger is real. But Congress can – and must — act. The Court put the ball in our federal legislators’ hands to come up with a new formula. And while it’s true that Congress is bitterly divided along party lines, the VRA has always enjoyed broad bipartisan support. In 2006, the VRA reauthorization passed with sweeping, bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress and was signed into law by a Republican president.

So it can be done. And it’s our job as citizens to push Congress to respond in an urgent, responsible, and bipartisan manner to protect voters from discrimination at the polls.

Voting is the language of democracy. Without a vote, citizens have no say in the government that is supposed to protect and serve them. Without the ability to cast a ballot, citizens have no way to ensure that government is responsive to their needs on every issue of importance from health care to education and national security.

Join the movement at RestoreVotingRights.org


Wade Henderson is the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition consisting of more than 200 national organizations working to build an America as good as its ideals.

What the Supreme Court Decisions Mean to Us

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By Aldona Martinka, Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow, AIDS United

Having just moved to Washington, D.C. to start my fellowship at AIDS United, I still ooh and aah at every building with grand columns and a fancy dome. I still read every statue and monument’s plaque when I walk by, even crossing the street to do so. When people walk by with nice suits and looks of intent I imagine grand and important work for them. I could barely contain my excitement when a senator walked past me in one of the tunnels below Capitol Hill. I am still amazed by Washington DC: The home of democracy in the Land of the Free.

Nothing I had experienced in my first ten days here, though, or even really in my life, had prepared me for my favorite DC experience so far. Standing in the sweltering heat, jostled by the jubilant crowd in front of the Supreme Court as news of DOMA’s demise exploded through the many supporters of marriage equality. I am so happy for our sometimes misguided, but usually well-meaning country. This decision reaffirms a commitment to equality that I sometimes question, and shows that, even here, you can’t halt progress toward the right thing, you can only delay it. On June 26, the Supreme Court chose to embrace it, and led us by the hand (some of us kicking and screaming) into a, still imperfect, but undeniably better country. I feel so lucky to have been there.

By Melissa Donze, Policy Assistant, AIDS United

On March 26, 2013, I found myself standing near the steps of the Supreme Court. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people had gathered to celebrate and show support for the LGBT community on the day the Supreme Court was to hear oral arguments in the Prop 8 case. That day, I stood, shouted and cheered in support of equality for all.

Exactly three months later, I found myself again at the Supreme Court steps waiting to hear the decisions on DOMA and Prop 8. I’d been nervous for days leading up to this moment. I’d been poring over law blogs and news articles trying desperately to understand the possible decisions that the Supreme Court could make. How could they deny certain rights and privileges to people just because they loved someone of the same gender? For me, this has always been a non-issue. My best friends are gay. Some of my family members and close family friends are gay. Why should they be treated any different than me just because of who they love?

Despite the blistering heat and sweat, when I heard the Supreme Court’s decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, I got goosebumps. Finally, I thought. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. I thought of my friends and loved ones. This is progress. This is love. This is history. At the end of the day, this is what really matters.

By Liam Cabal, Program Manager, AIDS United

This week, I had the great privilege of standing outside the Supreme Court when they overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. It was incredible to be there when the announcement of the opinion was made. The crowd cheered and clapped; there were tears, hugs, hoots of excitement. I thought back to when DOMA was enacted. I was still struggling with my own sexuality and that piece of legislation convinced me that I would NEVER be able to get married—at least not to someone I truly loved—and NEVER get the recognition from the government that my love equally deserved. It was hopeless. Thankfully, my melodramatic teenage self was wrong and I couldn’t be happier about it.

This huge step affords LGBTQ couples the same government benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. Let’s use this excitement and momentum to further address issues of discrimination and stigma. Stigma and homophobia, both external and internal, impact perceptions around HIV transmission and willingness to be tested. Overturning DOMA moves us in the right direction in reducing that stigma. Sure, we have still have a long way to go, but this gives me so much hope.