The Personal is Political: National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

March 7, 2014 in Access2Care, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, Lady Bloggahs

By Liz Brosnan, Executive Director, Christie’s Place

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a formidable health threat to women in the United States, particularly young women and women of color. As Executive Director of a women-serving organization founded eighteen years ago in memory of Christie Milton-Torres, the first woman to unabashedly share her life and struggles of living with HIV in San Diego, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD) plays a critical role in bringing much needed attention to the impact HIV has on women and girls. I’ve had the honor to serve as Executive Director of Christie’s Place for the past twelve years and sadly the struggle to have women count – to ensure that they have the resources and care they need to survive – has not lessened. As an activist for the past 16 years, this day represents much more than raising awareness. It represents a synergy of efforts to offer support, encourage discussion, teach prevention and the importance of getting tested, as well as how to live with and manage HIV.

Over the past year it seems to me that the national discourse is minimizing the impact of the epidemic amongst women. It is my hope that NWGHAAD will reinforce that there is an ongoing need to address HIV/AIDS among women and girls domestically. The theme, “Share Knowledge – Take Action”, is important now more than ever. We need to raise the collective consciousness that HIV affects women and girls in complex ways along the care continuum and take action to ensure their needs are adequately addressed.

Last summer Christie’s Place joined the AIDS United Public Policy Committee (PPC). Like many of my sister organizations, we don’t have a budget for advocacy work. A colleague, Doug Wirth, was visiting our agency and when I shared that as much as I would like to join the PPC, membership dues weren’t in our budget. Without blinking, he took out his checkbook and gave Christie’s Place a donation to sponsor our membership. He shared in my belief that it was important for a women-centered community based organization to be involved because we would offer a unique perspective. I was honored and humbled, and after I wiped the tears from eyes I joined that afternoon. It’s important for organizations like Christie’s Place to be at that table because we provide a grassroots and grasstop perspective about how policy impacts organizations and women we serve on the ground. Being part of the PPC emphasizes the importance of solidarity – not just in sisterhood but with our brothers who are in this struggle with us and for us.

The role of policy is vital in our local response to serving women. It is a bidirectional process where we lift up the lived experiences of women as well as advocate at the national level for policy, funding and services that fully address their needs. Social determinants, gender inequalities along with the pervasive intersections of violence and trauma all fuel women’s health disparities. Violence and trauma are deeply interwoven in women’s lives. In order to “get to zero” our public health, healthcare and social service systems need to be trauma-informed and trauma-responsive. Christie’s Place and others across this country have been working to this end over the past year. The White House Interagency Federal Working Group Report on the Intersections of HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender-Related Health Disparities is a much needed first step in addressing the need for a coordinated, integrated and holistic approach to caring for women and girls within this context.

As a woman, the personal is political. Stigma, shame and fear fuel this epidemic. This past year has been one of great reflection. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, violence and trauma. I have lived in silence with this stigma for most of my life. NWGHAAD is a call to action, so how can I expect women to share their status to combat stigma, to share their resilience in surviving trauma to inspire hopefulness, to turn the tide on AIDS by speaking out when I have concealed my own lived experiences crippled by shame and fear? I’ve been a hypocrite, but that ends today. In honor of NWGHAAD, I lift my cone of silence in solidarity and to speak truth to power.

A Day On

February 28, 2014 in AmeriCorps

MLK Day was an eventful and fun packed day of service for Team Indianapolis.  The group faced slight hiccups in planning for the day but was able to quickly overcome last minute cancelations.   The day began bright and early at Indy Reads Books with a bit of TLC and elbow grease to spruce up the bookstores donated basement collection.  Shortly after, Team Indy was able to explore the city events offered in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.  A day of service sweetly paired with a day of exploration and free events!  Who could ask for anything more?!

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Indy Reads Books is the only locally owned and operated new and used bookstore within the downtown area of Indianapolis.  The bookstore, more uniquely, is an affiliate of the local not-for-profit organization, Indy Reads.  Indy Reads seeks to provide literacy tutoring through family workshops, outreach programs, one-on-one sessions and ESL courses.  With an estimated 100,000 Marion county residents with reading and comprehension skills reporting at the lowest level of literacy, the funds raised through the bookstores donation resale go a long way.  The life-blood of the organization centers upon the skills and service of their volunteers.  We were very excited to support and serve for Indy Reads Books as we see the organization doing the same for many of our clients.

Working alongside a few other volunteeIMG_5218r organizations, Team Indy hit the basement stacks for a bit of refurbishing!   Cleaning and sprucing! Moving and sorting!  Shelving and ordering!  We did it all! And let me tell you, as someone who worked in a library for four years, it is incredibly frustrating to shelve and organize alphabetically.  Call numbers are so much more practical!  Thank you Library of Congress!!

Shortly after, Team Indy hit the town for a bit of exploration, education and fun!  Indianapolis provided a plethora of opportunities for city residents with free admission to multiple museums and exhibits when a canned good was provided.  We had the opportunity to explore the Rhythm Discovery Center, an interactive exhibit showcasing an array of percussive instruments, as well as the Indiana State Museum.  I finally know the difference between a mammoth and a mastodon!  It’s in the teeth!

 

 

Can the Black Community Really Become an AIDS-Free Generation? What National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Means To Me

February 7, 2014 in HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, National HIV/AIDS Strategy, Policy/Advocacy

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By Marjorie J. Hill, Ph.D, AIDS United Board of Directors

It was the summer of 1982. AIDS was quickly becoming the scourge of the gay community. It was a time of ignorance, mass panic and fear. Government, faith leaders and too often, family members turned their back on the affected individuals.

The first person I knew diagnosed with GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) was my college buddy Lorraine. Not the “face” of AIDS at that time, Lorraine was a black heterosexual woman. There was no treatment, no hope and about three months post her diagnosis, Lorraine died.

Much has transpired since 1983. Medical advancements have transformed HIV/AIDS from an almost always fatal disease, to a challenging but manageable diagnosis. We even dare to dream, to articulate the vision of an AIDS-free generation. As we approach NBHAAD, I pose the question if this vision is a possibility – especially in the black community.

Black Americans constitute 13% of the United States population but represent 50% of the new HIV/AIDS cases. The rate of new infections among blacks is close to seven times the rate among whites. Black women account for over two-thirds of the new AIDS cases among women. Black gay and bisexual men are 55 to 75 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than heterosexual men. Compared with whites, blacks also experience higher rates of HIV mortality.

These are sobering facts that are confounded by social determinants such as racism, poverty, homophobia, gender bias and stigma. Nonetheless I am persuaded that an AIDS-free goal is not only within our reach as a public health goal — but a compelling moral goalpost. This is especially true given the HIV/AIDS challenges faced by the black community.

Oddly enough, the first step to achieving this vision is in fact the very premise upon which NBHAAD is built. Everyone should be knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS in general and should know their own HIV status. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy goal to increase and speed connection to care must be adopted as a national public health mandate. All HIV-positive persons should have access to medical, social and community support. Homophobia and gender bias must be confronted as progenitors of HIV infection. This can only be achieved if all segments of society partner together.

Unlike 1983, we now have the science and technology to reverse the tide. While 30 years too late for my friend, Lorraine, achieving an AIDS-free generation is most definitely a possibility. For many years NBHAAD has been for me a day of interesting awareness events, inspiring speeches and of course, many new HIV tests. All important and all good…but what does NBHAAD mean to me this year?

Let’s make 2014 a day of activism, a day of commitment and a day of hope. It can be the day we really pave the road to an AIDS-free generation.

Gardening, HIV Testing, & Drag Shows: Team NOLA’s MLK Day of Service

February 4, 2014 in AmeriCorps, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

A day ON not a day off- this was our motto going into our Martin Luthor King Day of Service. Since the beginning of time (well, since our service year started…so August), Team NOLA has hoped to collaborate with another local AmeriCorps team. Finally, we had our chance. City Year New Orleans planned a magnificent MLK Day of Service and asked the community to come together and volunteer for a day at Arthur Ashe Charter School . Honestly, going into it I expected it to be a small crowd. I mean, people fake sicknesses for a day off so why would they give up their free time to come do manual labor all morning? Boy, was I wrong. There must have been about 200 people who came to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Everyone was full of energy (I was once I got coffee) and so excited to get out there and make this school beautiful. It was pretty invigorating. All I could think about was how much this moment embodied what MLK Jr. preached his whole life- “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Rebecca and Jeremy waiting to receive our volunteer assignments!

Rebecca and Jeremy waiting to receive our volunteer assignments!

After chugging three cups of coffee, we made our way to meet our assignment leader. Our team was placed with the school’s garden teacher. We were told to clean up the “Rainbow Garden” by weeding, planting, and fertilizing. When we first walked over to the garden, I realized there was nothing rainbow about it. It looked like a scary forbidden forest you would see in a Disney movie. We started by cutting dead plants and weeding- and let me tell you, we had our work “cut” out for us. (Sorry, bad joke)

First we had to get rid of all the dead/dying plants (which was most of the garden...)

First we had to get rid of all the dead/dying plants (which was most of the garden…)

A couple hours later we were ready to plant! The garden teacher placed all the plants for us and we went on a gardening rampage. I wish I had taken a picture of the plant debris we accumulated. Just imagine wheelbarrowing away piles of dead plant- nothing more satisfying.

Jeremy and Rebecca adding some "rainbow" to the Rainbow Garden!

Jeremy and Rebecca adding some “rainbow” to the Rainbow Garden!

 

Louie and Jeremy making the garden beautiful!

Louie and Jeremy making the garden beautiful!

We ended by fertilizing and watering our baby plants. (I didn’t know such an emotional connection to plants existed until this day) I was really proud, though. This garden is at the front of the school so it’s the FIRST thing kids see in the morning. What better way to start a day than seeing some pretty flowers. It was so wonderful to see a garden transformed in only a matter of hours.

 

Jeremy fertilizing the new and improved garden.

Jeremy fertilizing the new and improved garden.

 

Jeremy and I trying to look glam while watering/fertilizing plants.

Jeremy and I trying to look glam while watering/fertilizing plants.

We had a great time working with City Year. The school grounds looked amazing when everyone left- I wish I had a before and after picture!

Team NOLA!

Team NOLA!

Our Day of Service didn’t end there. After rejuvenating ourselves with naps, we headed out to Fusions, a popular bar in NOLA. Louie, Jeremy, and I walked around the bar with condoms & info cards while Rebecca was our “rapid HIV tester” for the night. We offered free testing from 9 p.m. til a little past midnight. It was quite the success! Plus, there was a fabulous drag show (when will I learn to dance like that in heels?) so we had a grand time! :-)

All in all, we had a day full of team-building (manual labor creates bonds), gardening, outreach, and testing. Even though the core value of AmeriCorps is “service”, MLK Day of Service gave us the opportunity to reflect on the needs of our community, work with other service groups, and remember a great man whose actions are still inspiring masses.

 Until next time,

Team NOLA!

If you are interested in learning more about where we volunteered –> http://www.ashecharterschool.org/ashe.html

MLK Day of Service: Detroit

January 31, 2014 in AmeriCorps

MLK Day of Service 2014 proved to be such an exciting time in Detroit that AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Detroit was fortunate enough to take part in two community initiatives within the city. The first community event allowed us to partner with the AmeriCorps Urban Safety Project in conjunction with Wayne State University. The AmeriCorps Urban Safety Project mobilized the community to help board up a series of abandoned homes along various routes to three different schools in Detroit to help foster safer communities for students and citizens alike. Team Detroit was able to serve on Day #2 of this three day service project, assisting with the project’s efforts near Osborn High School. The day started bright and early, and proved to be a cold and snowy day at that, but this did not stop the impressive group of dedicated volunteers that came out to insure this project’s success.

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As there are a number of abandoned homes within the city, these homes can unfortunately be a target for illegal dumping. Team Detroit helped to clear away some of the trash and debris from these homes, and dispose of such items properly. In addition, we worked to clear away overgrown bushes and tree limbs to provide a clear route to the windows and doors of these homes, so that they could be boarded up easily. As blight is often a main area of concern for the city, it was nice to see so many groups and citizens come together to play a part in fixing the problem. As a team, we were aware of the blight within the city, but seeing the illegal dumping that takes place at these homes once they are abandoned was very eye-opening. The support of people from the neighborhood, as well as the city authorities, was heart warming, as we were offered hot chocolate and coffee from those passing by. It was wonderful to see the project successfully completed at the end of the day.

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In addition, Team Detroit took part in the 11th Annual MLK Day community event in commemoration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event also sought to bring special recognition to the Freedom Summer of 1964, as well as to honor the memory of famed civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer. Several leaders and community members throughout Detroit joined together at the Central United Methodist Church to honor the life of Dr. King and reflect on the many valuable lessons his legacy taught us as a society.

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A number of leaders throughout the Detroit community who had taken part in the Civil Rights Movement shared stories of their interaction with Dr. King, as well as Rosa Parks, whose life’s work continues to have an impact on the Detroit community today. We learned that Dr. King gave his famed “I Have a Dream” speech for the first time in Detroit before giving the speech months later in Washington D.C. during the March on Washington. Community choirs and poetry groups gave performances to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a quote from Nelson Mandela was also read aloud, which had a profound impact on Team Detroit:

“Let the strivings of us all prove Martin Luther King Jr. to have been correct, when he said that humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war. Let the efforts of us all prove that he was not a mere dreamer when he spoke of the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace being more precious than diamonds or silver or gold. Let a new age dawn.”

During this event, Team Detroit came together with hundreds of fellow community members to march in honor of Dr. King’s life, as well as in commemoration of Freedom Summer 1964, and the lives of those lost during this volatile time in our nation’s history. This time allowed Team Detroit to connect with other community members in meaningful ways, as we reflected upon and discussed Dr. King’s legacy, and how many of the civil rights issues he advocated for in his lifetime are still very much relevant today, as issues of race, gender and equality continue to impact our society.

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Team Detroit’s favorite part of this experience was the opportunity to interact with the Detroit community in an authentic way, as well as the opportunity to see the impact of Dr. King’s life on the community at large.

I Am My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper. Fight HIV/AIDS!

in Access2Care, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, Policy/Advocacy

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By Gina Brown, Program Manager, AIDS United

“I Am My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper. Fight HIV/AIDS!” This is the 2014 theme for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was first observed in 1999, and since then, advocates, allies and people living with HIV/AIDS in the Black community have worked hard to be “Our Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper”. We’ve organized, united, strategized, articulated and advocated for the need to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper, as we remain dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS in the Black community.

HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately affect Black America. Currently, three in five Black Americans know someone living with or who has died from HIV/AIDS. Although we account for less than 14% of the U.S. population, Black America represented 44% of all new HIV infections in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Men who have sex with Men (MSM) remain the group most heavily affected by HIV, while young Black MSM continue to account for more than half of new infections among young MSM. The CDC reports a 21% decline in new HIV infections among women overall, however the new data shows that black women continue to be far more affected by HIV than women of other races/ethnicities. Of all the women living with HIV in the United States, approximately 66% are African American.

According to the Southern AIDS Strategy Initiative (SASI), in 2010, 46% of all new diagnosis of HIV infection occurred in the South. Compared to other regions, a higher percentage of diagnoses in the South were among women (23.8%), Blacks/African Americans (57.2%). With numbers this high, it is crucial to expand Medicaid in the South, since Medicaid Expansion would allow greater access to care and treatment for HIV positive individuals.

What does it mean to be “Our Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper?” One way this can be interpreted is that a sister or brother takes responsibility for the others behavior. It means taking care of them and not ignoring their problem, it also means being concerned with someone else besides you. You keep him or her from harm. As a woman living with HIV, the way I do my sisterly duty is by speaking for those women who have yet to find their voices. I take this charge seriously because I AM my Sister’s Keeper!

So looking forward, how do we take greater responsibility for one another in the Black community, as we recommit to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic? First, EVERY Black American must know his or her HIV status. Second, every person who tests HIV positive must have access and be linked to care, which helps to improve their health outcomes. Third, partners and allies must work to ensure that all groups and individuals who are challenged by social determinants work to keep the Black community within reach of access to opportunities that limit poverty and social exclusion. This focus is critical as we work together to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Since its inception, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day provides a heightened opportunity for Black Americans to come together for education, testing, involvement and treatment, if necessary.

As our Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper in the Black community, on this National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we are dedicated to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in America.