It amazes me when people praise me for “being so brave" for telling my story, or this one: "I can never do what you do!” But here is the truth; I was diagnosed with HIV in July 2002, with AIDS in May 2008 (and that’s another story to be shared later), yet my advocacy journey didn’t start until I became homeless in December 2009. It took me SEVEN years to find my bravery. My local AIDS Service Organization placed me in transitional housing and unknown to them, it gave me courage to start a new and exciting journey.
|Photo Source: HIVPlus Magazine|
Upon reflection, social media made it easier for me to find my footing in the advocacy world. I volunteered during AIDS 2012 after many months of joining in social media advocacy. Yet, even still I was still tentative in calling myself an advocate. I added my name to the email lists of all the top national HIV advocacy groups, including that of ADAP Advocacy Association (aaa+). This one was important to me personally because North Carolina was having all sorts of problems and it led to issues for those of us dependent on ADAP funding to receive our meds! At one time, North Carolina had one of the largest ADAP waiting lists, too.
In 2013, I attended my very first ADAP Conference after the ADAP Advocacy Association extended a scholarship to me. I was the ONLY attendee from my state! I felt so overwhelmed, yet at same time felt a tiny flicker of determination being born! Brandon Macsata, who I was in awe of because he ensured patients are front and center, offered me much encouragement to “spread my advocacy wings”, and to not be afraid to “just do it”! That encouragement started me on journey to the advocate many of you know today. Years later, Brandon was so impressed with my growth as a self advocate that he asked me to join the organization’s board of directors!
I’ve learned that advocacy cannot be dictated by anyone, or any organization. We are all different, and we have different ways of engaging in the fight to end the epidemic. It is troubling to see some organizations shut out the patient voice, while others use it to protect systems rather than people. Each of us living with or impacted by HIV must learn how to be advocates. Blogging may not be for you. Protesting might not be a good fit for you. Meeting one-on-one with lawmakers may intimidate you. And that is okay! There are still days when I wonder if I am a worthy advocate, and I reflect: YES I AM!
All these words are simply meant to encourage you to take that leap of faith and believe in yourself, even through the setbacks! Get online and join listservs of organizations who do the work you’re passionate about! Take that first step and before you know it you will be telling your story!
I look forward to meeting you as our advocacy journeys cross paths!