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We’re All in this Together

I am serving as an AIDS United AmeriCorps Member in Cleveland through the AIDS Funding Collaborative. Recently, during a discussion about sexual health with teenagers at a local high school, a student made a particularly poignant statement that resonated with me. She very bravely and truthfully explained to the group that if she didn’t know someone living with HIV, then she was not very likely to think about her own risk of contracting the virus. And as much as I hated to admit it, she was right. Despite the fact that HIV affects all of us, until we can personally connect to something, we often do not care about it.

So, how do we engage in meaningful dialogue about sexual health and HIV with people who don’t realize they are affected by the epidemic?

This got me thinking about storytelling and how in each of our daily interactions, we share stories. During an education or care-navigation session, clients share their stories with me, which helps me provide the appropriate referrals, solutions, or support.

Within the course of one day in my service site, Nueva Luz Urban Resource Center, I met with a man who told me how he had emigrated here from Brazil, where being gay was not accepted. He has been on Atripla, antiretroviral medicine used to treat HIV, for over a decade with no side effects and is virally suppressed. Then I met with someone who told me about the women he has loved, the women he has lost, and his struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction. He also shared how he contracted his “H” - as he so fondly refers to HIV - and how he takes all of his medications on a regular schedule.

Their stories remind me that we are all human and share tragedies and triumphs, beyond just HIV.

I think back to the student’s statement and I realized that her message can be a catalyst for engaging people in conversations about HIV. As my fellow AIDS United AmeriCorps Members and I continue our service year providing community education, creating social awareness campaigns, and providing testing we must remember that our work is not about statistics or demographics of people impacted by HIV but of a human experience far greater than the reach of a virus.

If we use the power of storytelling to connect people to people, instead of people to a disease or a risk behavior, we can cultivate a sense of individual reflection and communal responsibility for ending the HIV epidemic. HIV affects us all, whether we realize it or not. 

Posted By: Chelsea Wood, AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Cleveland - Friday, February 12, 2016

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