November 21, 2011
For our World AIDS Day 2011 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the HIV community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- regular contributors and those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.
In 2009, I was shaken by the loss of two very dear friends who were warriors on the battlefield for HIV education and awareness: Richard Anderson (Atlanta, Ga., founder of Men of Color in Motion) and Floyd Patterson (Pittsburgh, Pa.). Both were long-term survivors and transitioned from AIDS-related illnesses. These men lived openly with HIV/AIDS, sharing and pushing back against HIV-related stigma. Following their loss, I took some time in prayer and meditation with God, asking the question, "Why am I still here after 21 years of dealing with this virus?" Out of the time with God came my new assignment: Cycle for Freedom, a national HIV/AIDS mobilization campaign, was founded shortly afterward in 2010.
In the spirit of Harriet Tubman, I can serve as a foot soldier for freedom for HIV/AIDS in black and Latino America by cycling the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route. It means that for the entire 2,028-mile, 75-day campaign, the issue of HIV and its hold on African-American and Latino communities will be mobilized.
Cycle for Freedom for me is about walking into what God has called me to do in this season. I have been blessed to have lived for nearly 23 years now with HIV, while so many others have transitioned. I know in my heart that my very survival is purposed by God. I believe that the things we go through in life are not necessarily for us, but for the glory of God when we surrender our will to HIM.
Cycle for Freedom means that I can stand, speak and advocate as a living witness to the infected and affected community, the populations that are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, and to the world community that God is still in control. I can be a witness to the fact that my life has value; the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS have value; the lives of men who have sex with men have value; and the lives of those in poverty and marginalized in American society have value.
Cycle for Freedom is my personal push back, and my way to once again sound the alarm that HIV in the African-American and Latino communities is still in the pandemic stage, and that we as a nation need to do more to education, prevent, collaborate, coordinate, treat and care for these communities that continue to have the highest rates of new infections in the United States year after year.
Cycle for Freedom's mission is to reduce the spread of HIV among African Americans and Latinos by confronting the three critical issues that fuel the HIV pandemic: HIV-related stigma, homophobia, and lack of education. To fulfill our mission, Cycle for Freedom will work with African-American and Latino communities along the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route to develop strategies designed to increase HIV testing and reduce HIV-related stigma. During the 75-day campaign, Cycle for Freedom will work in 14 cities along the route to have an HIV prevention effort that includes two elements: rapid HIV testing and counseling; and an anti-stigma component specifically tailored to meet the needs of the populations that bear the brunt of stigma in the host cities.
I believe that activism is a particular case of freedom as action. When asked what it means to be an activist, I think about the novelist Chester Himes. When asked what it means to be a writer, he replied, "A fighter fights, a writer writes." For me, his statement's emphasis is on the process, on the doing. No matter how many books he publishes, the day he stops writing is the day he will no longer be a writer. I am an AIDS activist, and the day I stop will be the day I die.
Stokely Carmichael, in a Mississippi jail, understood this principle and shares what he learned early on during the freedom fighting: "We are not what we think or say we are, not what we hope, not what we pretend we are. We are simply what we do."
Cycle for Freedom is a campaign designed to be a part of the collective efforts of "Getting to Zero," this year's World AIDS Day theme. I invite you to go to our website to read the mission, goals and objectives in their entirety.
When I left a full-time position in late November 2009 to begin developing this campaign, I never imagined all the pieces that needed to come together to launch this Cycle for Freedom. The impact that this campaign will have in the coming election year will begin with each of you. After you go to the website and read all of the content, you will understand how important it is that each of you finds a way to support the campaign.
I consider myself a servant leader. Throughout my professional career as a librarian and advocate for children, youth and families, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the highest standard of servant leadership while working for the Children's Defense Fund. I learn on a deeper level all I must do to push in whatever way we can to serve the people of God. The ministry of Christ, in my mind, was about freeing and empowering the oppressed with a message that all are worthy of the Glory of God. Cycle for Freedom is what God has called me to do in this season. I am calling on you to support my efforts right now. Tomorrow is never promised.
Cycle for Freedom needs your support now. Please go to the website to read the complete mission, goals and objectives and make a donation in commemoration of 30 years since HIV/AIDS was diagnosed in the U.S. Be a part of this campaign!!! Follow on Twitter @CycleforFreedom; and find us on Facebook.
Khafre Abif, a librarian by trade and a full-time HIV advocate, is a father of two teenage boys. Khafre is the founder/executive director of Cycle for Freedom. He lives in Augusta, Ga.
Read more of Freedom Rider, Khafre's blog, on TheBody.com.
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