21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016)

Personal Story

Ready, Set, Grow! AIDS 2016

August 17, 2016

Waheedah Shabazz-El

Waheedah Shabazz-El at the induction ceremony for the 2020 Leading Women's Society of the Sisterlove Positive Women's Training Project (Photo courtesy of Waheedah Shabazz-El)

The opportunity to attend the International AIDS Conference, July, 2016, in Durban, South Africa, was truly an amazing and humbling experience for me.

Looking back now on the process, truthfully, it began with some hesitation, because I knew I would have to submit a scholarship application and be selected in order to attend. Pessimistically I thought that even if I applied for a scholarship I would never get it, being up against the hundreds or thousands of applications that would be submitted. Uneasily I shared my doubts with my mentors and supporters. After which, noting my years of commitment and effort advocating for social justices, they lifted me up until I could see and believe that I had just as good of a chance as anyone else of being selected for a scholarship to AIDS 2016. That I had a right to be there and that I needed to get ready, set and grow -- meaning to keep trying and pushing until something gives. Knowing how they believed in me and my ability, I would go ahead and give this scholarship some serious time and energy, going the distance, even submitting 2 abstracts for workshop sessions. My confidence level was soaring as I made an indomitable decision to get ready, set and grow -- shooting for the moon and hoping to land among the stars. Nonetheless, when neither of my abstract proposals nor my scholarship applications were accepted, needless to say, my sails were furled and my self-assurance was dissolved.

Even when the message came in my email that the International AIDS Society's Educational Fund would be awarding a "limited" second round of scholarships to researchers, policy experts and community advocates, I cautioned myself not to get excited again, yet it gave me a bit of optimism. So I went ahead "put on my big girl undies" and applied for that second round of scholarships through the IAS Educational Fund. Two weeks later, I received an email stating that I had not been selected. Scratching my head in frustration I reached out again to my mentors. I was not willing to give up. I was ready, set, grow ...


They suggested I apply as a volunteer, something I hadn't thought of since the conference was not in the US. Nonetheless, I applied to be a volunteer, only to be told they had enough volunteers but they would place me on the waiting list. Ready set grow. We were in the first week in July.

The second week in July, there was an email from IAS Educational fund stating after recalculating funding, I was being awarded a scholarship including registration and complimentary travel, after all ! Ready, get set ... GO!

Once I arrived at the Durban Convention Center after 26 hours of air travel and proceeded to register as a US Delegate, guess what came up in the system? Yes, I had already been accepted as a volunteer! Not sure how I missed that email. Now I had a choice of how I would define myself at AIDS 2016. I selected to attend as a US Delegate.

Reflecting on my journey, AIDS 2016 in South Africa would not have happened for me, in my mind, without processing the entire experience. Step one was accepting the challenge of submitting a scholarship application and proposal for workshop sessions. The scholarship process was a journey in and of itself, and I felt it is worth sharing. Because there are other conferences which you and I will only be able to attend if we get ready set and grow a scholarship application to them. We are stronger together, so I hope this encourages each of you to get ready set and grow. The next International AIDS Conference in 2018 will be in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I am keeping my big girl undies on because I am ready and set to grow. Hope to see you all there!

Waheedah Shabazz-El is PWN-USA's regional organizing director.

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This article was provided by Positive Women's Network of the United States of America. It is a part of the publication The 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016). Visit PWN-USA's website to find out more about their activities and publications.

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