AIDS Watch - How Did I Get Here? Part 1

What's an AIDS Watch? No, it's not the new installment to Apple products. And no, as someone asked me at the airport, it is not a vigilante group that literally watches for people living with AIDS. Good grief, #45, look at the confidence you give to ingorance. Just look at it. 

No, AIDS Watch is the premier gathering of advocates and people living with HIV from all over the nation for a high impact policy traninng on key issues impacting people living with HIV and arming them with resources to have dialogue with their elected congress people on what they should do about it. But then, it's so much more than that! It's what an empowered legacy looks like! It's what never giving up and using the collective power of voice to create change looks like. It's presented by the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and AIDS United and this year featured more than 650 people from 34 states, DC and Puerto Rico to continue sharing their truth and enact their power in their communities. Here's a clip of the legacy legend herself, being highlighted as our torchbearer.

Powerful, right? What a way to be remembered. This made me want to do some reflecting. I know where I want to be someday, but to ensure that I get there with my behavior and dignity in tact, I found that for this phase of my life, I'd reflect on how I got here in the first place. 

So, as of August 2016, I am the Florida Community Organizer for The SERO Project. My job description is to go out in various communities in Florida and educate people living with HIV about the laws throughout the nation and specifically Florida that are being wrongfully used in criminal prosecutions, either under HIV specific criminal laws or under general criminal statutes. I'll explain more about HIV criminalization later. The education is part of the strategic planning for work that has been the current that has moved legislation in Florida to modernize our laws and promote a more public health friendly frame.

How did I get here?

May 2016, HIV Is Not A Crime II training conference with The SERO Project, Positive Women's Network and many other sponsors including our host organization Thrive Alabama gathered nearly 350 advocates and people living with HIV in Huntsville, AL for a national dialogue on what their state has in place as law, the successes of other states (Iowa & Colorado) on their modernization of these laws and provided skill based training to equip advocates to return home and make things happen. It was here I presented for a conference on something beyond my story. I was more than a person living with HIV, I was someone providing insight and knowledge that would promote dialogue in various communities and get people to understand their "WHY".

How did that happen?

February 2016 after prompting from various advocates in other states, I submitted my first ever in life abstract for a conference. I remember being so uncertain and afraid that I was waisting time of the people evaluating and planning HIV Is Not A Crime II, because I was inexperienced. Then I received an email saying it was accepted. What? Wait, let me go back and be sure that was meant for me!

It was.

In my application, I asked that if I was selected to be paired with someone of experience that would co-sponsor because while I believed in the activity I had planned and drafted, I was not going to get up in front of a room full of experts and facilitate it myself. Nope. When I received a follow-up email that the unicorn of HIV advocacy, Olivia Ford was going to be my co-presenter, I then realized how real this was. We planned calls and drafted slides to develop "Being the Change You Seek in a Resistant Community", which I then was allowed to present with her two more times at the Positive Women's Network - USA Speak UP summit and Positive Living Conference 19, both in Ft. Walton Beach, FL. By the way that averaged a total of 650+ people I encountered.

How is this happening?

November 2015, an invitation was sent out to various advocates living in Florida to have discussion on what strategic plan could take place in Florida that could change our laws. I remember that meeting like it was yesterday because I had no idea what was going on through half of the conversation. But I learned the power of my not knowing what was happening because it prompts me to ask questions. It prompts me to dig deeper than what other people in the room are focusing on. Remember that, it will come up later.

I say all of this as an intro to empower people to stop underestimating who they are. What you think is a weakness might be the very thing that will launch you into your purpose. What you think is a flaw, might be a characteristic someone of influence and power is looking for. What you think is holding you back might be what needs to be unleashed so that you can change the world.

Image result for you is smart meme

I thought that being a person that always had questions and alternative solutions to how things are done was annoying. I felt like if I brought up a topic or idea that was not on a planned agenda, then I shouldn't speak. Then I had to learn to understand the concept of having a seat at the table. If space has been created for you, fill that space. No matter what the intended purpose is for you being there. It could be that someone simply remembered you from a previous encounter and thought you would be a good fit. Honor that. Don't shrink yourself.

Your invitation to the table could be because a quota had to be filled. I have often been the youngest, the only woman or the only person of color and sometimes all three. That fueled my motivation to make the best of this time at the table. Regardless of what brings you there, always use it as a catalyst to get another seat at a bigger table. If there is dialogue being had around a topic you have little knowledge of, do not be afraid to politely say so. I have often asked for clarity of a situation and put it on my certainty I was understanding what others were saying, by rephrasing the main point of the topic. If I missed my window to ask for clarity, I wait until the close of the meeting if this isn't provided in writing sometimes and ask the facilitator to reiterate what our individual tasks, if any are. There are many ways to make your presence known. You don't have the be at the head of the table to have an impact, but if you're not at the table my friends, you are definitely on the menu.

So that is how I got to AIDS Watch in Washington D.C. Next post, I will tell you all about what I experienced there. I can tell you one thing, it was nothing anyone could prepare me for.
Stay tuned, tales from DC coming soon xo

xoxo | #embracehealing | #giveinspiration | #livevictorious | #empoweredlegacies

HAWMC: Day 5 - Speak Up, Speak Out, Speak Life!

This is my 3rd year attempt to do this Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge and see it all the way through the month of November. Third time is a charm, right? I have a lists of prompts, I can do this. I will do this. So far, so good since I"ve made it to Day 4 - that's a first!

Each day, WEGO Health, an awesome empowerment network of over 100,000 health activists, posts a prompt and health activists around the world reflect, write and post their experiences with their health in response to these posts. If you've read this far, I thank you. You'll be reading a lot about HIV for the next 25 days. Let's do this!

Living with #HIV has truly changed who I am as a person as far as the way I think, the way I respond to the world and the way I allow the world to impact me. Social media has played a huge role in that. My old MySpace blog was where I first spread my wings in engaging with an audience on HIV. The love and support I received through that platform was overwhelming. It also became a form of my healing. Then MySpace was no longer and I had to adapt. In the day of fast-paced, instant gratification social media, I've adapted to expressing myself on various platforms. It's helped me not just amplify my voice but the hard work of countless others, generating a collective impact on the world. 

Twitter - in my opinion and my little use of it, I think it's the most limiting of expression that I prefer, so I maintain my interest by being a re-tweeter. 140 characters or less gives me anxiety, but when it's important or I want to be the first to say it, I make it happen.  

Instagram - probably my most favorite format as I have two accounts. I love speaking through photos or giving my interpretation to a photo quote. The ability to be able to cross post onto other social media platforms makes it extra fabulous. I do wish that Twitter wouldn't make Instagram shares an outside link though. I also find it's easier to push followers to your other social media platforms when you cross post from Instagram, especially with the hashtags. I have specific ones I use for my advocacy consulting page, feel free to use them when sharing my blog! #empoweredlegacies (name of organization) #embracehealing #giveinspiration #livevictorious (slogan) #SpeakUp #SpeakOut #SpeakLife (slogan/motto/mantra) #missempowered (alter advocacy ego)

Facebook - I love and prefer to share through my emPOWERed Legacies page. Being in the public eye and not wanting to delete anyone, it's been difficult for me to set parameters as I built my following so I have family mixed w/ advocacy peers and people I meet at events add me as well. I'm public about a lot, but there's a LOT I also keep to myself, so my original intent to have a Facebook account to keep up with family sometimes gets lost in communicating my work efforts as well. It's ok though. As long as the message gets out and people actually check on me outside of social media, I'm good.

Oh and I love me some Pinterest, but I don't use that to amplify my voice; however now that I'm blogging more, I really should. That's my safe haven on the Internet. I can fantasize, be in Spain, have a thinner waist, cook amazing meals and be socially amazing all while wearing my pajamas eating peanut butter out of a jar. 

I have a YouTube account but I don't have the things I want or the space to do videos the way that I want - yet.

I'm debating on a SnapChat, the filters do look temptingly fun . I'm debating on Facebook Live but my luck, something embarassing would happen that I wouldn't be able to edit. I'm debating on podcasts or BlogTalk Radio, but I think I will stick with what makes me comfortable for now, and if needed, as I always do I will adjust accordingly.

What's your favorite method of letting your voice be heard? Are there any that are useful that I failed to mention? Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment and share, share, share! If you know of other ways I can amplify my voice, let me know! Co-blogging is also fun, let's make it happen!

xoxo | #embracehealing | #giveinspiration | #livevictorious | #empoweredlegacies

HAWMC: Day 4 - Dear Kamaria, You Have HIV and it's OK.

This is my 3rd year attempt to do this Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge and see it all the way through the month of November. Third time is a charm, right? I have a lists of prompts, I can do this. I will do this. So far, so good since I"ve made it to Day 4 - that's a first!

Each day, WEGO Health, an awesome empowerment network of over 100,000 health activists, posts a prompt and health activists around the world reflect, write and post their experiences with their health in response to these posts. If you've read this far, I thank you. You'll be reading a lot about HIV for the next 26 days. Let's start, shall we?

So, my diagnosis day...was interesting to say the least. Moreso, the circumstances leading up to it, not so much how I was diagnosed. If I could write a letter to myself for that day, knowing all that I know now...hmmm. I like this prompt because it doesn't ask if I'd change my diagnosis - and for that, I'm glad, because I wouldn't. Changing living with HIV would change who I am today and I love myself WAY more today than I did then. I fought hard as hell to be the Kamaria I am today. So, anyway, here's my letter:

Dear Kamaria,

You just became a mother. Life is looking pretty scary right now and adding this diagnosis to the mix is really going to change your life, but not in the way you may think. You are still beautiful. You are still worth the love you crave. You're daughter is going to be an amazing and better version of you. Believe it or not, living with HIV will actually show you who you're real friends are. There are going to be times where you will question if someone is reacting to you a certain way solely because you are living with HIV, and there will be times when physically you aren't going to know if your immune system is suffering or if you just have a cold. The amazing boyfriend you have now, he's a catalyst in your life to remind you that life is not over and that everything that makes you a woman will be appreciated, valued, cherished and honored. 

Here's some things you may be shocked to know...

  • One day, you're going to realize you are the change you've been waiting for and you're going to speak out. Doing this, will cause some people to leave your life. Oh but beloved, the room they make for all the amazing people is going to BLOW. YOUR. MIND.
  • There's always going to be a fight. If it's not against the stigma, it will be with the insurance companies. If not them, it will be agencies that provide services. If not about you, the fight will be for someone else to be delivered to a place of empowerment. Pick and choose your battles, know you're victorious. Beloved, you are MORE than equipped to handle this.
  • Your values are going to change. Things you believed to be right and true before were based on what you were taught, experienced or exposed to. You are now walking into an opportunity of enlightenment to know the world for yourself and how you want to live in it according to YOUR beliefs. Think about it, an abortion made sense to you at one time, in spite of what you were raised to believe. This doesn't make you a bad person, this makes you human. It's what you do with those beliefs that shape who you are. Continue to love, continue to not cast judgment on others and continue to learn.
  • You are going to see pockets of this world and be recognized for things you never even thought of. A passport is in your future beloved.
  • Hug your family more - especially your grandmother. 
  • People are going to judge you - but guess what? They will do that no matter if HIV is in the mix or not. Your skin is thicker than you realize. Bless them with your amazing smile and keep it moving.
  • Right now, you think you're going to have to take a ton of medications. Honestly, because of scientific milestones, that's true at first. You are being diagnosed in the cusp of some amazing breakthroughs with treatments. So, stick to what they prescribe, go to your labs and fight for the doctor you're comfortable with. Ignoring your health, ignoring these letters of HIV will not make it go away. Trust me.
  • That fight I mentioned you'll be in earlier, don't be freaked out by that. Others in the fight will hear your battle cry and they will support you. They won't always look like you, but you have a common bond of solidarity with them that can't be broken.
  • Please remember to breathe. You're a single mom with a lot of goals. Trust the opportunities that come your way, but don't forsake the memories you'll have with your baby girl. You'll blink and she'll be an adult. 
  • And're not fat. Keep it that way by speaking life over your reflection in the mirror. Be intentional about what you put in your body. It's ok to love fries, but don't let the fries love your thighs. Virtual 5Ks will become a trend and the medals will appeal to your distraction by shiny things. Do them.
  • Any doubts you have about your family loving and supporting you, wash it down the drain. Learn the basics of this diagnosis, breathe and let them know you're going to be ok.
  • I love you. God loves you. You are enough.
Now, don't cuss out Dr. Jardine. She's new to this too. Your mom is going to worry, but you will find strength together. You are not going to die from this anytime soon. So, cry when you need to, laugh more than once a day, sleep in when you need to and know that you're doing the best you can. 



Me as a new Mom, 2003 a few weeks before my diagnosis.

So, that was intense to write.Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment and share... I actually didn't go back to edit like I usually do. I want this to be the real deal of what I'd say to the 21 year old, single mom terrified of life, me. It's amazing to place myself back in that space and be aware of how amazing life is now. My mental health therapist will be pleased with this blog post. What would YOU say to yourself at the dawn of your diagnosis? OR if you don't have a diagnosis, what's a point in your life that you felt a shift for a huge change? What advice would you give yourself, knowing what you know now?

xoxo | #embracehealing | #giveinspiration | #livevictorious | #empoweredlegacies

HAWMC: Day 3 - Quote, Unquote

This is my 3rd year attempt to do this Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge and see it all the way through the month of November. Third time is a charm, right? I have a lists of prompts, I can do this. I will do this.

Each day, WEGO Health, an awesome empowerment network of over 100,000 health activists, posts a prompt and health activists around the world reflect, write and post their experiences with their health in response to these posts. If you've read this far, I thank you. You'll be reading a lot about HIV for the next 28 days. Let's start, shall we?

My quote is actually from myself...Yeah, conceited much? I'll explain...

"Knowledge may be the power, but the application of knowledge is the cure." - Kamaria Laffrey

February 2007 was my first time ever publicly sharing my story. I was at Hurst Chapel AME Church and it was their National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Town Hall. The local paper came to my house to interview me, people were telling me how brave I was and how inspiring I was. This continued happening, to my delight because I felt like I was spreading awareness to get people tested and not fall into the same blissful ignorance I lived in when it came to HIV prevention. All was well until after a couple of years, I ended my speech and during Q&A, a woman stood to tell me that I was an inspiration and needed to get my story out to more "young people" because "knowledge is power."


True, but why limit knowledge to just young people when HIV knows no age, gender, race, religion, career, etc., and if I'm such an inspiration, which in the correct context of personal application is a verb; what exactly have I inspired one to do? Get tested? Gather these young people that need more knowledge to fuel their power? I was conflicted by this popular quote by Francis Bacon and the context in which it was used towards me. 

I responded to her with this analogy (and I'm paraphrasing because I've said this in many settings in various ways, but this is the gist):

"Knowledge may be the power, but if I KNOW that I am supposed to wear a seat belt in spite of my safe driving because there are other drivers on the road, yet I don't 'wear the seat belt...where is my power? If I KNOW that condoms and having an undetectable viral load eliminate my risk of transmitting HIV to someone else but I don't do either...where is my power? We KNOW a lot of things in our lives, but if we don't APPLY what we know, we perish - physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, mentally, etc. The application of knowledge is the power, simply knowing is never enough. Plus, we must share what we know with others and not hoard it to ourselves, (therefore, why I speak about my personal experience of contracting HIV to anyone who will listen)."

I got a soft applause and a few nods of agreement after I said that, but no one has engaged me in dialogue that I am wrong (not that I'm trying to be right, but I am trying to prove a point) and I feel strongly about this concept that I have engraved it in the very fiber of being an HIV advocate. I apply this to more than just HIV work. 

I can't just complain about change, I have to BE the change.

I can't just say I am gifted or blessed, I have to walk worthy in that by sharing my talents with others and using them to fulfill my purpose in this world. 

I can't just look at a cupcake and not lick the icing off the top, I have to devour it's buttercream exquisiteness...

Ok, that last one took a weird sugar deprived turn, but you get the point. I hope.

So,there you have it. What's your favorite quote? Or what's a cliche or saying that drives you crazy because people use it out of context? I have a whole list of HIV stigma based ones...but we can talk about that another day. 

Thanks for reading - please comment and share...I want to hear from you! 

xoxo | #embracehealing | #giveinspiration | #livevictorious | #empoweredlegacies

HAWMC: Day 2 - Trust the Process

This is my 3rd year attempt to do this Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge and see it all the way through the month of November. Third time is a charm, right? I have a lists of prompts, I can do this. I will do this.

Each day, WEGO Health, an awesome empowerment network of over 100,000 health activists, posts a prompt and health activists around the world reflect, write and post their experiences with their health in response to these posts. If you've read this far, I thank you. You'll be reading a lot about HIV for the next 29 days. Let's start, shall we?

So, I am part perfectionist, part procrastinator and slight overachiever. Meaning, if the project I want to complete is not purely inspired and utilized in the moment, I will overthink it, take as long as possible because I don't "feel the time is right" and ultimately never complete it because I'll wait for the next "big moment of inspiration." That is what my writing process has looked like in the past. 

I attended HEALTHeVoices earlier this year where I learned how to create a editing calendar, with prompts on what to write. I was so proud of that calendar. It was inspired. See, that's the overachiever in me. I was determined to make a calendar; however the perfectionist in me overlooked the fact that the content needed to be topics broad enough that I would actually want to write about them when the time arose. That calendar is now sitting on my bookshelf collecting dust, not even being utilized to live out it's purpose of reminding me it really is Monday. The procrastinator, well she just sits back and hopes this attempt to be organic while using a pre-designed prompt will work at superseding all these nuances of my process.

So in learning to just trust the organic process of being my 100% authentic self, I am reading the prompts and simply typing without stopping. I am doing four posts at one time (mostly to catch up because I didn't  actually start on Day 1) and then I edit and add photos and spacing later. I only read over it once, in the voice I use when I'm casually talking with friends and then I hit submit. The only thing that takes up more time than the procrastinator in me prefers, is adding in links. When I figure out how to do that as I type without getting distracted and looking for unicorns, I'll have it made!


I'm determined to do all 30 posts this month, even though I know I will be out of town in a week or so for more than five days. I plan (key idea: NOT procrastinate) to write those posts out before I leave. Setting realistic goals in this blogging thing will help me bite the bullet and finish editing the one book I've completed the rough draft on, and begin writing the other three that are crying for my attention. 


I will succeed. My vision board says so and I believe it because I completed most of it before my perfectionist and procrastinator kicked in. The overachiever won that project hands down - best vision board I've ever done! 

Do you have  vision board? Do you have a crazy writing process? Are you a procrastinator, how do you make that work for you? Let me hear about it! I'm all about giving and sharing!

Thanks for reading so far, please comment and share! 

xoxo | #embracehealing | #giveinspiration | #livevictorious | #empoweredlegacies

HAWMC: Day 1 - Getting to Know Me & HIV

This is my 3rd year attempt to do this Health Activist Writer's Month Challenge and see it all the way through the month of November. Third time is a charm, right? I have a lists of prompts, I can do this. I will do this.

Each day, WEGO Health, an awesome empowerment network of over 100,000 health activists, posts a prompt and health activists around the world reflect, write and post their experiences with their health in response to these posts. If you've read this far, I thank you. You'll be reading a lot about HIV for the next 30 days. Let's start, shall we?

I don't write as often as I'd like...I put a lot of pressure on myself to do so and then end up doing nothing. I make up for that in HIV advocacy and being present at events, doing the work. Always in the back of my mind thinking of other amazing bloggers like award winning blogger and social media guru, Mark S. King of "My Fabulous Disease, Joshua Middleton of "Pozitive Hope", or my sisters at Positive Women's Network and I wonder how they do it all. But then, I realize when I do take the time to write, to sit still and put my spider web of thoughts to print...I have a lot to say. I am driven to write when I see an injustice and want to make a call to action, i.e. my most recent blog post on HIV Is Not A Crime. Since then, I've been chosen by The Sero Project to take the lead on Florida efforts to reform our laws! So, time for writing comes scarcely but I am going to try! I am also driven to write (but not always publish) when I have a moment of catharsis. I will hopefully get to speak on the beauty of those moments later when I had to remember to breathe in the midst of chaos!

I love the guided soothing method and ease of this. Try it, it makes a difference. Download the app!

I'd like other Health Activists to know and be encouraged by their own efforts of being a voice - whether they are the only voice in their field of health expertise or if they are in a large sea of powerful voices...YOU ARE ENOUGH. I want other Health Activists to know that it's ok to not be ok. I want other Health Activists to know that it is also ok to build your network of support outside of your field of expertise. I have learned a lot about health advocacy and grace from my friends living with psoriasis, cancer (of various kinds), IBD, Crohn's, and Scleroderma to name a few. Powerful, selfless, fierce individuals that have helped me recognize the beauty in knowing I am doing all I can to be healthy, I am the expert because I live HIV daily and...I AM ENOUGH.

Specifically about my condition as with many I have mentioned...there is a silent suffering that happens. Especially if you are in the public eye. I don't "look" sick. I'm overweight and people don't typically associate HIV/AIDS with curves. It's ridiculous because it ties into the self-stigma that eats away at us mentally. A small part of me (it gets smaller everyday unlike my waistline) is terrified to lose weight because I don't want to fit a stereotype of being ill. I'm literally shaking my head at myself for even typing that. But that is my reality. I'm working on it. There are days in the midst of this that I feel like utter crap. I have learned to not even say when I'm not feeling well because I either get a "You look fine", a "Me Too" story that is no where near connected to what I'm feeling, or I get grilled about my CD4 count, why my feet are swollen or "You're just stressed". Not complaining, because I'm used to it now. I have just learned who I can and cannot talk to openly about my wellness.

So, there you have it. A very jagged first entry into this writing challenge, but I'm learning to stop being so polished all the time. I'm learning to be more authentic with myself and it will help my intentions become more authentic and effective.

Remembering I AM ENOUGH, I thank you for reading this and hope if you related to any part of it, you know you're not alone but it does get better. Feel free to comment, email me, share, find me on Facebook or write your own post! Thanks again - have a powerful and productively blessed day!

xoxo | #embracehealing | #giveinspiration | #livevictorious | #empoweredlegacies

HIV is NOT a Crime

In less than one month, I will be attending the HIV is Not a Crime National Training Academy II and I cannot wait. I will be in a room with fellow HIV advocates, some of them that have been arrested and/or prosecuted for living with HIV, having to register as sex offenders and class D felons!

Why would I be excited about that? Well, let me walk you through a timeline of my knowledge of what I have learned is HIV criminalization.

Definition: HIV Criminalization is the inappropriate criminal prosecutions of people living with HIV for non-disclosure of their HIV status, potential or perceived HIV exposure or transmission.

As a member of Positive Women's Network - USA, I am on several listservs and one of them featured a thread from Tami Haught. She was requesting information from anyone living in Florida that she could sit and do a round table with to educate them on criminalization and ultimately form a task force that would begin working on repealing the outdated laws that are in existence in many states with HIV specific language based on stigma and not the science of transmission. Remembering I had met Tami at the previous Positive Women's Network Speak Up! Summit and hearing stories of how HIV disclosure laws were impacting people's lives, I knew I wanted to be involved. Wanting to help out in anyway I could, but not really having a lot of knowledge, I connected with Tami and she attended a support group I'm a part of where she did a brief but powerful presentation on the outdated laws, what has been done in other states to repeal them and what more needs to be done. I was hooked.

From there, I began to visit the website of the agency Tami was representing, The SERO Project. I thought back to the Cicely Bolden and Elisha Henson cases where their lives were taken because of their HIV disclosure (but no transmission of HIV). I wrote about them in relation to women living with HIV and exposure to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). My heart began to break (again) and I felt incredibly hopeless.

I know nothing about law, policy, or even felt comfortable going to elected officials to talk to them. I was one of those people that felt they were untouchable. I think it has something to do with them always wearing suits. Can you wear yoga pants or jeans just once to a meeting? Please?

I was left with this, "Now, what" feeling after Tami left. I followed her posts, I followed SERO and I read as much as I could understand. Then I got an email from Tami asking if I was available to come up to Tallahassee. She was forming a band. No seriously, she had called together Florida advocates and allies to brainstorm on what could be done to repeal our laws. Evidently, Florida has had 153 people convicted (as of Nov. 2015) under these laws. One of the main principles that we are working on across the board outside of educating the community and leaders is to examine the previous cases and approach the repeals to modernize Florida statutes from a public health perspective, including using the National HIV/AIDS Strategy as support.

So, the meeting has been a kick start to work behind the scenes quietly, making moves in a direction that will ultimately lead to reformed laws. It will not be an easy process and it will not happen overnight.

Which is why I am excited for the training academy coming up.

Plenary and session topics will include:
● Intersections of race, gender and sexuality in HIV criminalization
● Centering the rights of sex workers and other over­criminalized groups
● Updates and tips from active state­based campaigns against HIV criminalization
● Supporting leadership of people living with HIV in the movement to end HIV criminalization

When I saw this list, there was an open call for submitting abstracts to present at the training. Now, remember I have no extensive or deep knowledge in all of this. But I have learned to BE the change that I seek, so I submitted an abstract. My first ever! Terrifying experience by the way; got accepted! And I have the most amazing co-presenter! Olivia Ford, former Communications Director of Positive Women's Network! *mind blown*

Whether my abstract had been chosen or not, I am excited to gain insights to help people living with HIV know that they can come out from the shadows, live their lives victoriously and not in fear. I am excited to be empowered by the conversations and strategies that will be shared. I am excited to take whatever I learn from those four days back to my state and implement change. I am excited that I will get to see history in the making.

If you are interested in attending, you can still register

Tips for Media Coverage and HIV

"AIDS is the Wrath of God..."
"AIDS strikes HIV victim"
"HIV man jailed for infecting women"

Can you tell which of these headlines is from when HIV/AIDS was first discovered vs. today? HIV/AIDS has been impacting communities since the early 80's, and while it's understandable that there was fear of the unknown causes and risks, I truly believe that the media played a huge role in perpetuating the stigma that we fight today. Yes, they did their collective job of getting people's attention so that they could be aware; however their bold, sensationalized words brought no comfort to the lives and families that were being torn apart by the unknown virus silently killing men and women.

I want to see a world where HIV stigma is gone. Where all health-related stigma is gone. I know that is incredibly idealistic but I can't help but hope it to be possible since it's our fault it exists. We make assumptions, presumptions, judgments and vilify people that are different than us or that we are somehow threatened by.

Special thanks to Vickie Lynn and Valerie Wojciechowicz, and a host of other powerful advocates that worked together and came up with a presentation that involves People-First language in addressing stigma. I believe that is the first step in changing the way media addresses the issues that are involved with HIV/AIDS. We still want them to report on the important changes; however don't group us as one band of horrible "diseased misfits" because of specific isolated events, especially when it involves criminalizing a person because they are living with HIV. There are situations where disclosure of one's status puts someone's life in danger, there has to be consideration taken into that when reporting.

Let's step away from the fear because the original fear was based on the unknown. Today, we know so much about the virus that people can be on treatment to prevent transmitting the virus to their partner and conceive children naturally. We know so much about the virus that there was recently a successful organ transplant involving patients living with HIV.

So, advocates, researchers and community agencies know this...but how much of this do our media correspondents know? The Positive Women's Network (PWN-USA) created a small list of tips for those that work in the media on how to report on HIV. This short list has a more detailed tip sheet and isn't just for media makers. This can be used throughout the community and for people living with HIV. How we identify ourselves is important. Identify with WHO you are, not what you're living with. This amazing resource will detail why phrases like "full blown AIDS","infected", and "mother to child transmission" perpetuate and anchor stigma in our communities that we are trying to educate. We as advocates can do our part, but if the media doesn't reinforce our efforts, it is all for naught.

The language we choose to use can prevent someone from being confused.

Deeply Rooted in HealtheVoices 2016

Janssen paid for my travel expenses for the conference. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

I can't tell you how I heard about the HealtheVoices conference originally. On a regular basis, I have at least fourteen tabs open in my browser, so I am sure it was during my process of Googling a keyword like "HIV Advocate", "empower", or "health conference". I have been spending the majority of the year seeking for places where my voice can be heard and shared. This year I vowed to be more intentional in my actions for advocacy, my strides to better health and and finding balance in it all.

So, when I came across the link and realized I hadn't missed the open call cut off date, I got chills. I've had the opportunity to share my thoughts with Janssen on health before and knew that if they were behind this conference, it was legit in making online health advocates voices a priority. Then when I got accepted, I was overjoyed!

So, what did I experience while attending this conference? Well, I had a mind-blowing revelation (several actually), made additions to my HIV advocacy tribe, had an instant bond with approximately 100 people, developed a new found love for Twitter, and ways to resurrect my blog life as well as my social media presence...all in one weekend! But wait...there's more! I will highlight a memory from the conference as well as share information on my fellow conference attendees throughout the remainder of the year. Look for those posts to have the heading and hashtag #DeeplyRooted.

That was the theme of this year's conference. I was asked several times what it meant to me, but I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I couldn't make the words come out right. Now, I think I can.

Deeply Rooted. In the sense of online health advocates and the role we play in the bettering of our communities as well as our own lives, it means to be connected in unmovable ways, so intertwined through our experiences that no storm can knock us over. I came to this meaning in a dream I had on night 2, literally of a palm tree in a storm. Palms are one of the strongest trees in creation and also my favorite for the very reason that when they are pushed through the winds of a storm, their roots become stronger, anchoring them to their foundation. They may bend, but they rarely break. I live in Florida and have seen several hurricanes, so I know. But that is the essence of Deeply Rooted and exactly what this conference meant for me. I saw groups of people solidified in what had to have been a lifelong bond through their health conditions. I saw individuals stand and challenge experts on the validity of a health advocates online presence without blinking an eye. I saw chronic pain sufferers smile through gripping flares of discomfort because they were getting recharged by the energy around them. I was strengthened by our collective voices and it was empowering.

A lot of us are advocating for a third year and I truly hope I get to go. I don't care where it is (maybe somewhere with palm trees?), I just want to be in the room with these amazing people one more time. There are not enough words to describe the unity in differences that I felt there. And the accommodations weren't too shabby either! Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel has the most considerate staff and amazing rooms with outstanding views!

This country girl was beside herself with the lights! And then to have dinner at the friendliest seafood place I have ever visited, Catch 35, was a great experience. I cannot wait to go back and see more of Chicago, thankful I have family there so I can make multiple trips!

So thank you again JanssenEveryday Health and Tonic for this amazing experience! You all, rock!

Disclaimer: Janssen paid for my travel expenses for the conference. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

Declaration of Belief

The following may cause you to want to delete me...and I'm ok with that.

In a time of life where we think we are experiencing atrocities, injustices and heartbreak; I know this is nothing new. This has been the way of the world for a long time. Many have corrupted the goodness that does dwell in this world with religion, money, politics, and power...but none of that shakes my FAITH. A friend recently described me by saying she knows that religion is important to me. It is not. My faith is not swayed one way or the other by religion, doctrine, denomination or place of worship. To me, religion has become a systematic perversion over a body of beliefs in one or more deity all over the world, for a long time. People use religion to form others thoughts on a group of people, to wage wars against a group of people and/or to justify their own personal decisions as they see fit.

My faith is simply a response to the goodness of the God I serve, in the face of the evils we create in this world. I love Jesus Christ, not those that twist and manipulate Christianity to hate, manipulate, or control others. Those who question why is there pain and suffering? I can only reply, from my own perspective, that there is purpose in pain. I love all people, I disagree with people's choices...that doesn't mean I hate. I love all people, but I forgive people too, that doesn't mean I condone their behavior. I love all people, even if they don't share the same beliefs as me. That doesn't mean I am lost. There is a lot more to say, that will probably come in later blogs. I just had to get this off my chest TODAY after watching the video below.

I will no longer keep what some called my "sanctified mouth" shut. I will no longer back down when my heart urges me to call on Jesus in witnessing hate. For some, this will explain why you see me worship differently now. For others, this will cause you to want to separate from me. For even more, this may inspire you to genuinely examine the life you have and seek the light in Him that will help you live...eternally. Please no negative comments. If you disagree, I respect that and I still love you! #goeverywhere #loveall