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Stopping HIV Together: A Conversation with Reverend Claude Bowen

Reverend Claude Bowen is with the Silver Linings Project which is a program of THRIVE-SS (Turning HIV Resentments into Victories Everlasting- Support Services). His HIV Journey began in 1987 and at 72 years young, he shows no signs of letting HIV keep him from living his best life. In advance of National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, AIDS United had a chance to speak to him about his journey, and what he wants other gay men to know about testing for and living with HIV and how we can stop HIV together. Part one of our inspiring chat is here.


Reverend Claude Bowen

After taking a break from HIV advocacy work for some self-care and self-reflection, you came back. What brought you back?

I went back to work part time in retail because I decided to go back to school. Retail put me back out in public with people. I was home alone, and I thought I was content. I met someone at the VA who invited me to Brothers Speak at AID Atlanta. It was there I met Dwain Bridges, Larry Scott-Walker and Daniel Driffin. The more I went the more comfortable I became with having HIV conversations because I for a long time had not wanted to talk about it. I went to social events and saw how these men interacted with people and he saw how they cared about each other and the community. The work they did and when they said “we do HIV work differently” it spoke to me. 

I started with their online HIV group. When THRIVE SS became a formal project and then organization, I got pulled back in. When I was offered a position, I expressed gratitude and said I would not take on more than I could handle now with an understanding that it is ok to say no. They agreed and I’ve been involved four years now.

 

Tell us about the Silver Linings Project

The beginnings of the Silver Linings Project started within one of THRIVE’s social events. Malcolm Reid mentioned there were other brothers living with HIV in the community who did not come to social events because of the age difference between them and other members and not feeling comfortable and feeling unwanted.

That just sort of grew as more mature men met, coming once a month having open and honest conversations about their issues. I got involved in this group and when a possible grant funding opportunity was brought to them. Malcom Reid, Nathan Thompson, and I wrote narratives which then became the grant that got funded for the Silver Linings Project.

At 50 you get tired of the club, there’s nothing to it anymore. You wonder what you’re doing there. There’s less substance because it’s for the younger kids. I made the decision that I wasn’t going to be the barfly at the bar that got so flattered by beautiful young men I would pay for their drinks (laughs). I found a space with these over 50 men and could talk about issues that affected them and that they were processing.

 

How can younger people meaningfully involve older adults living with HIV in work and discussions on how to stop HIV together?

We have to first bridge the gap by having an open and honest dialog. We will have to put all our perceptions of each other on the table and look at them. How many are not true? How many are? How do we change this so that our perceptions are not a character flaw that puts a barrier between us? Putting everything on the table, we can construct a plan that includes everyone.

 

What do you want people to know about living well with HIV? 

You can continue to live a very healthy life. And there’s no need to hide. I want this message out there because some of the newer incidence are people over 50.  How many people have been living undiagnosed and for how long? How long has stigma kept people in that unhealthy space while they thought something was going on or because of past behavior they might have the virus or an STI but not go to the doctor because of the stigma. How many of those people have just given up on living a healthy and engaging social life?

 

In recognition of National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, what would you say to a younger person (or anyone) who was scared to get tested?

Face your fear. Fear can take you out of here. Get tested because knowing gives you the upper hand because then you can address it and manage it. If you don’t, that veil of fear will add a level of stress and depression and it can shorten your life. HIV is not a death sentence. It does not mean you are tainted or unlovable or damaged goods. You can really have it any way you want it.



Posted By: Julio Fonseca - Thursday, September 26, 2019



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