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Reflections on World AIDS Day 2016

Today, another World AIDS Day will come and go, just like the many before it. While we are 35 years into this epidemic – perhaps because we are 35 years into this epidemic – it is more important than ever to take the time to observe World AIDS Day, and reflect on what it truly means.

In recent years, there has been much progress to celebrate: the advent of PrEP, treatment as prevention, and new strategies to link people to care. At the same time, challenging realities continue: this epidemic continues to be fueled by social inequities, with gay men, trans people, people of color, and the poor facing the brunt of the epidemic.

On this World AIDS Day, staff at AIDS United reflected on what motivates us to continue in the fight to end the AIDS epidemic – on the good days and the bad. Below are some of our responses.

My college mentor was like me in many aspects. He too grew up in rural America, managed an organization that fought for LGBT rights, and enjoyed reading the New York Times. He traveled the region empowering young people like myself to understand the power of our voices, stories, and votes and always challenged me to speak up for what I believed in. After several months, he also told me that he was living with HIV.

I could not believe it.

His disclosure shook the faux foundations on which I had built my new gay identity. I thought HIV was an outdated concern that didn’t happen to people like me. So, I did as I commonly do when presented with something that challenged me. I researched. I found that gay men—and other racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities—are disproportionately affected by HIV. I realized that HIV is much more complicated than what my upbringing in rural America led me to believe.

It made me angry.

How could a virus intersect with so many other social justice issues? Why can’t we find the political will to really do something about it? How are we not outraged and rallying in the streets?

Many years later, I realize that I still have more questions than answers, but the passion that I found then still fuels me today. It’s why I’m so proud of the work we do here at AIDS United.

- Cody Barnett

We’ve come a long way, still far to go
Live without stigma, let’s make it so

Break out of the shadows, keep silent no more
Let’s do right by those who came before

Hear us now, what do we say
Stand up for justice, tolerance, and equality
On World AIDS – and EVERY Day!

- Farah Nageer-Kanthor

This year, I made a personal commitment to run the Marine Corps Marathon to raise awareness, funds, and resources to support HIV and harm reduction in my community.

On World AIDS Day, I rededicate myself to this cause. We won’t end this epidemic until we address the injustices that fuel it.

- Paola Barahona

Pedro Zamora passed away over twenty years ago, at the age of 22, and yet his legacy of humanizing HIV and advocating on behalf of hundreds of thousands of individuals remains.

Being 22 myself, I often belittle my own capabilities when it comes to advocacy. However, in my role as the Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow at AIDS United, I am constantly reminded of the impact young people can have in mobilizing, inspiring, and igniting change.

- Brianna Naumchik

Now More than Ever
Julio J. Fonseca

As day turns to night, and thoughts (re)appear
They turn to those lost who were held so dear
To those who are living in pain and pure isolation
In this surreal time of discord and disparity in our nation
And how we jumped ahead into this bubbled space
Where the challenge of surviving and living we face
Deciding how to honor memories while moving ahead
Marching towards thriving and pushing down dread
Challenging thoughtless leaders to do what is right
Forging ahead with our love and continuing the fight
We honor all who have been affected by this condition
And carry our hope forward as our message and our mission.
Because it will not be done without us.

I served as an AIDS United AmeriCorps Member on a team with 11 other amazing and inspiring people who became life-long friends. One of my major takeaways from AmeriCorps is that anyone can make change. Even seemingly small actions can chip away at our obstacles, like HIV stigma. This is something I remember on days where I feel like the odds are stacked against us. And, when things feel insurmountable, I know I have my community to call on for support. I love you guys!

- Sarah Hashmall

Managing Southern REACH at AIDS United allows me the opportunity to see the hard work being done on the ground in the some of the most affected parts of the country—specifically, the “Deep South.” Each year, people in that region advocate for policies that directly improve the lives of people living with HIV. They fight hard against outdated laws and legislative intransigence while understanding a “win” may take some time.

Knowing that I play a small part in that effort keeps me focused on this work, even when those policy wins seem so hard to get to. I believe in this work and I greatly respect the folks in those states for getting up each time they get knocked down and working that much harder. I am inspired to also get up each time despite the challenging political climate and uncertainty of the next administration.

- Liam Cabal

Music has always been very inspirational to me. A song that I find motivating on the difficult days is, One Sweet Day, by Boys II Men & Mariah Carey, since it helps me remember all of those who have passed on - they are why I do this work. Particularly moving lines from the song are:

Never had I imagined
Living without your smile
Feeling and knowing you hear me
It keeps me alive

Although the sun will never shine the same
I'll always look to a brighter day

And I know you're shining down on me from heaven
Like so many friends we've lost along the way
And I know eventually we'll be together
One sweet day

- Terrence Hamilton

At AIDS United, we don’t just issue grants, provide training, or advocate with and on behalf of people living with HIV. We fight for hope.

Join us in the fight to end AIDS in America.

Posted By: AIDS United - Thursday, December 01, 2016

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