October 25, 2011
This is part of a series of articles about the 2011 Women's HIV/AIDS Advocacy and Leadership Summit, which was held Oct. 13-16 in Baton Rouge, La.
After an early flight -- 5:45 a.m. to be exact -- and little to no sleep, Olivia Ford, our community manager, and I made it to Baton Rouge for the second annual Women's HIV/AIDS Advocacy and Leadership Summit, which is organized by the Campaign to End AIDS (C2EA). Later that same night, after we had settled in (and feasted on some seriously delicious BBQ at TJ's Ribs for lunch), we met up with women from the summit for an introductory dinner before the summit started the next day. The dinner was held at the Radisson Hotel and was hosted by Gilead Sciences.
To our surprise, our very own TheBodyPRO.com blogger Bethsheba Johnson, G.N.P.-B.C., A.A.H.I.V.S., gave a presentation about women and HIV during the dinner. Her talk was incredibly informative and inspiring. Bethsheba talked about HIV 101, the importance of treatment, reasons why women are more vulnerable to contracting HIV and what we can do to help other women in our communities.
One of my favorite phrases is a "hot mess." Bethsheba used it a lot during her presentation. How HIV replicates after binding to the host cell is a "hot mess." How HIV doesn't play nice with other diseases (such as herpes, syphilis and gonorrhea, which increase one's risk of seroconverting) is a "hot mess." And how too many women across the country -- both negative and positive -- know so little about this disease is a "hot mess" as well.
But the important takeaway from her presentation was that people living with HIV are not a "hot mess," especially the amazing women who were in the room that night. Everyone was chiming in and reflecting on their own experiences living with HIV and/or working in the field. The women were from all around the country, though mostly from the South, and talked about everything from stigma, the issues that they face with their clients, their own diagnosis to adherence issues.
One woman spoke about hope and how giving up on it can be detrimental to one's health. She had been positive since she was 16; now in her 30s, she talked about how many friends she has lost over the years who just gave up on life. But she said that she was going to keep fighting and living well as a means to inspire others either to learn to be hopeful or to remain being hopeful.
When Bethsheba was talking about condom negotiation and young women, another woman living with HIV, who wants to be a civil rights lawyer, talked about how she sees young girls who don't receive love at home look for older men to make up for what they lack. She went on to talk about how young girls wanting material things from "sugar daddies" are putting themselves at risk for HIV, because they are not asking their partner to use condoms.
It was clear that the women were there because a lot more work needs to be done.
And I am super excited to be able to have been a part of that change. The following day, Olivia and I gave a media training presentation. Its purpose was to train the women on how to pitch their own personal stories and their organizations to the media and how to prep for interviews when journalists send them media requests.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com. Follow Kellee on Twitter: @kelleent.
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