Love of community has been the single driving force of my life’s work. For me, community comes first and takes precedent over individual need. I am here today because of community and all of my tribes that have lovingly brought me to this point. Throughout the years, I have worked in civic engagement, community and economic development, legal, land use and urban planning and my commitment has not changed. I was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 and my world fell apart. I was an attorney living in Washington, DC doing my dream job and living my dream life. But on April 2, 2003, my work went black. I ended up quitting my job, selling my home and moving to Houston to be near family. Those early years following my diagnosis were very difficult for me and my family and for the first couple of years, I kept waiting for the phone call that they had made a mistake (I gave up a few years ago). Even though I knew that HIV was not a death sentence, I still internalized all the shame and guilt we get through societal stigma and media messaging. Through my work in the HIV movement, I have been able to reclaim power over my life and found a way to utilize my skills, talents and passion to be a beneficial presence on this planet and to others.
I started my work in HIV advocacy with the Ryan White Planning Council a number of years ago as a way to come to terms with my own diagnosis. I joined the Council in 2009 to bring the voice of Black women to the table. I finally came out publicly with my diagnosis in 2011 by traveling to Tanzania, Africa, to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro as an open woman living with HIV. That experience changed my life and I have continued to live out loud ever since. I always like to quote Malcom X, “I didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on me.” It was time to get busy.
I bring more than 20 years of experience working in inner city communities on land use and economic development issues. I have spent the last five years utilizing the self- empowerment movement embodied in the 1983 Denver Principles, meaningful involvement of people living with HIV and AIDS (MIPA) and greater involvement of people living with HIV and AIDS (GIPA) to build the leadership and advocacy of people living with HIV. I knew many HIV advocates, both living with HIV and many not living with HIV, because I wanted to learn from all of those countless advocates who had worked tirelessly since the beginning of the epidemic.
I did then what I propose to do now in my role at SAC and that is go ask others what has and hasn’t worked and ask more questions than I have answers about how to move forward. Since 2016, I have had the honor of leading a citywide effort to end the HIV epidemic in Houston using an intersectional, social and racial justice approach. This work has led me to a deeper understanding of the real social, structural and systemic drivers of the epidemic.
The approach I bring to SAC is the belief in equity and grounding in community. I bring my love of community and my desire to engage, inform, mobilize, educate, build and uplift. I know there are many organizations in the south who have been doing this work for years with and without resources. I want you to know I see you. Over the next several of months, I hope to meet many of you, learn from you, support your work whenever possible and partner and collaborate. SAC will be launching a strategic planning process in 2019 and we need to hear from you about how we can do our work better and support the communities and individuals that continue to be marginalized, silenced and excluded.
My approach and philosophy for this work is built on the following:
- Inclusiveness of all black, brown, LGBT and gender non-conforming individuals and communities
- Willingness to work with mission-driven allies from HIV and other intersecting movements
- Building the leadership, advocacy and voices of PLHIV
- Community building and organizing to build power and leadership
- Utilizing an Intersectional approach built on collaborations and partnerships
- Belief that HIV is a racial justice issue and working to center the voices and lived experiences of those most impacted (It is not a coincidence that black and brown bodies are most impacted)
- Supporting efforts that raise the vision toward ending the epidemic
- Dismantling institutional and structural racism, calling out white privilege, and supporting our communities to build political power and economic justice
- Ending gender-based violence and gender inequity in pay and treatment
- Standing up to bigotry, racism, homophobia, transphobia and attacks on our immigrant communities and sex workers
- Demanding culturally sensitive and appropriate health care, ending mass incarceration and the criminalization of sex work, fighting for sexual reproductive health and justice and supporting our harm reduction advocates.
- Ending the practice and policy of HIV criminalization
- Ending stigma
- Supporting community-based research
I am sure you will agree that these are pretty aggressive ideas and SAC cannot do it all. This is not a laundry list for SAC. We want to hear how we can partner with you to support your efforts, and when possible to lead efforts and to sometimes follow other organizations doing this work and other times to cheer from the sideline.
These are exciting times for SAC and we are experiencing a period of unprecedented growth. Our goal is to be a regional source for funding, partnering, information, community building and policy work in the south. We plan to launch a strategic planning process in 2019 to ensure our work reflects the community’s needs and to charter a path for the next five years for our work. We look forward to leading, supporting and following others doing this work.
I feel incredibly grateful and honored to do this work with the SAC team, all of my fellow southerners and advocates from across the country. Please do not hesitate to contact me for a meeting, email or a phone call. I am always available. As you can tell by now, this work is not just my profession, it’s personal.