Why I started Breaking HIV Stigma
Many people have asked, why I started Breaking HIV Stigma. So, I decided to provide a little background information on how Breaking HIV Stigma came about and where I would like for it to go.
So, back in May 2018, I was laid off of my job and was actively seeking new employment. My good friend and now mentor, Kimberly Knight invited me to a meeting for Ignite Durham at the Durham County Health Department because she knew that I had an interest in the HIV field. The Ignite Durham event was focused on PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), which is a medication used to prevent HIV. This was also the day, I met Dr. Allison Mathews.
Soon after, I began to volunteer and work with Kimberly and Dr. Mathews doing community engagement around HIV Cure Research and I felt that I needed to personally do something to normalize the topic of HIV/AIDS and help end the epidemic. So I created the Breaking HIV Stigma with the goal to help start conversations related to HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and education. I figured that having content that could spark conversations was the best way to break the stigma. I know that in the black community, sexual health is not something we talk about and HIV is totally taboo to talk about. I just feel that some people do not fully realize that stigma plays a huge role in the HIV epidemic. Stigma causes people to not get tested because they fear that if someone sees them going to the testing clinic that they will assume they are have some type of STI or HIV. It also causes people who test positive for HIV to not start treatment, which in this day and age, is simply just taking one pill a day. Stigma causes those who are living with HIV to feel isolated and can force them into a major state of depression which for some ends with them taking their own lives. I also wanted to be able to encourage those living with HIV to know they are not alone and that they will be alright.
I’m so passionate about breaking the stigma because growing up I witnessed the stigma of HIV/AIDS, because my mother had contracted HIV when I was around eight or nine years old. So I have witnessed how family members would often treat her. It was never anything they said to her, but more how they acted when she came around. I can remember, being with my mom at my aunt’s house and we had all just finished eating lunch. I took our bowls into the kitchen and placed them in the sink. My aunt (mind you, this is my mother’s sister) came into the kitchen and placed the bowl and spoon which my mother used into a plastic bag and placed them under the sink. I remember asking my aunt “Why did you that? to which my aunt replied, “Oh, I’m going to throw them away after she leaves. You know she has that HIV-AIDS.” I was in disbelief, I honestly could not wrap my head around why she would do that, to her sister. So, I said “Well, you know that you could just wash it like you do the rest of your dishes, right? Because that’s not how you get HIV.”
I reflect back on this day a lot, because I know realize that my aunt just wasn’t aware of the facts about HIV, much like most people today. So this is why I try to educate with real facts in the content and information I share, as well as this is why I love the community engagement side of Breaking HIV Stigma. I pride myself on being able to connect and engage with the community, because it gives me an opportunity to engage with the everyday person. I feel that the personal connection and engagement helps to really educate because it gives opportunities for people to ask questions and learn in a safe zone. I also use this an opportunity to get community members input on new content ideas. Which is why one of the goals I have is to do more community events.
Breaking HIV Stigma sponsored and co-organized National Black HIV AIDS Awareness Day-Wilson, NC, this past February along with Kimberly Knight and her Red is the New Black platform, and we were able to make an impact on an area where HIV is heavily stigmatized. We were able to provide valuable information and free HIV testing, were about 25% of the attendees actually got tested, which is HUGE! I want to continue to create content and start conversations to normalize the topic of HIV/AIDS as well as to hold community events to continue to help connect the community members to resources.