Today December 1st is World AIDS Day. For some, it is just another day. For others, it is a time to remember those who have fought the battle and lost, encourage those who continue to fight and educate to end AIDS in our lifetime. Since leaving the field of HIV/AIDS many years ago, I seem to have become complacent about what was a passion.
Living with a chronic illness has brought back many memories for me. So today, I am reflecting on the lessons I learned when I worked for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance. As a new “inexperienced” Social Worker and a recovering addict, I was the “crazy white lady” who stepped into Bridgeton wanting to help the world. Yes, it is what many of my clients thought of me and willing shared as we got to know each other. I didn’t see any of the people who walked through our doors as “diseased”, “hopeless” or less than. I saw them as people who because of their bad choices were sick. “There by the grace of God go I” was a constant reminder for me since I had made many bad choices over the years. So what could I do in a little office (actually half a duplex) with little funding, the only paid staff, a handful of volunteers (who in many cases were also clients) and a heart wanting to save them all. In those early years, AIDS was not a “manageable disease” for many it was a death sentence. It took babies from their mothers. Moms and dads from their kids. It took people from all walks of life – yet no one talked about it. I can remember the first few funerals where the family said “they died of cancer” because they did not want their loved one to be remembered for the stigma of HIV/AIDS. This was the world I dedicated many years of my professional life too. Belinda grew up joining me in this battle to end the stigma of HIV/AIDS. She played with kids who were HIV-positive, she shared her toys, she helped with fundraising, as well as sorting and delivering holiday toys. She grew up with a passion for helping people which I admire.
Fast forward to today when little is spoken about HIV/AIDS. It is a manageable disease so we seldom hear the prevention message. There are medicines to keep you going, so why worry, right? The theme for World AIDS Day 2017 is “Now Let’s End It”
Globally, there are an estimated 36.7 million people who have the virus. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. Only 1 in 4 people are making their way through the obstacles called health care and medications. Let’s not be complacent. Let’s continue to share how HIV can be transmitted. Let’s all work together for a day when there is an AIDS-Free Generation.
What are you willing to do to help? Today, I remember those who fought a great fight – Jackie Wise, Matt McCrossen, Sam, Maria and all of the others who walked through the doors of my office in Bridgeton and the other SJAA offices. I honor those who continue to fight especially Jeff, Donna and Veronica. They continue to inspire me with their strength and determination after 26 years.
Honor someone you know who is living with HIV/AIDS or who has lost the fight. Share their names so we too can honor them.
Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!