July 25, 2012
Reggie and Dionne Smith
The theme "Turning The Tide Together" speaks to the idea that at this point in the evolution of our conscious existence with HIV, we have progressed to the point on multiple levels of energy where we can overcome AIDS if we act in concert for the greater good. Considering where we started in this battle with HIV 30 years ago, when death seemed like a certainty, and fear won the day, we have come a very long way!! The mere fact that people are daring to not only dream, but speak of a day when at least the clinical diagnosis of AIDS (where immune system is depressed and HIV is present) can be eradicated, and at best -- a "CURE" or vaccine is possible, is exciting!!
For a person like myself, who contracted HIV in 1984, and has watched so many friends and family perish as a result of HIV, this is a very moving event. I think the promise I made to God and myself to do whatever I could to participate in my own survival, beyond ALL outside considerations, was helpful in cultivating the spiritual and mental foundation necessary to manifest my reality. I guess that is what made the woeful response of the church so disappointing, but even that has changed. My friend, Renee Beamon, of the Beautiful Gate Outreach Center in Delaware, is but one example of many efforts by churches worldwide to "love thy neighbor". It is the effort to go into the world community and assist many with resources and spiritual guidance that is a very important part of "Turning The Tide Together". In order for us to shift the paradigm, we will need to negotiate from a "higher perspective" than the one that the virus is operating on, and I contend that is the spiritual and mental realms.
There are two distinct tracks that the AIDS 2012 conference is taking. One is the technical track where scientist and epidemiologist from all over the world are sharing information and getting feedback on many diverse topics of interest. Among the many topics is the question of growing older while living with HIV, using medications as treatment for exposure to HIV (aka PREP), and medical professionals discussion of the data that drives the science. Although there are many caveats to simply aging, we are now, gratefully, getting more information about the physical effects of long term usage of HIV medications, and the many drugs we use to stem the tidal wave of effects of simply aging.
The other track that is passionately represented here at AIDS 2012, is the wonderful work that is being done by people, worldwide, to be a part of the solution for the millions diagnosed with, and affected by HIV. The Global Village is where there are scores of AIDS Service Organizations engaging conference attendees and the public. This area requires no fee to attend, so if you are in the neighborhood, stop on by! It is in this area that a number of seminars and panel discussions are going on, addressing topics that take into consideration the science affecting the state of AIDS in 2012, but it is more effective as the driving force that determines the focus the science should be taking. In the Global Village, people from all over the world discuss their unique situations, while focusing those things that are needed in order to serve our individual concerns so that we can be about the business of "Turning The Tide Together" .
Of special interest to me is the groundswell of acknowledgment in the Black communities of America that there is a special need to create a space in the conversation for the heterosexual Black man. In particular, a plenary panel discussion was facilitated in the Global Village by the Heterosexual Men of Color Coalition (HMOCC). The HMOCC is a newly forming group of motivated, energized, diverse, not homophobic, resourceful Black men working in the field of, and in some cases, living with HIV, who are paving the way to creating that space where other heterosexual Black men can have their voices heard. There are many "straight" Black men who are not comfortable sharing their experiences or taking the lead in the African American community's battle with HIV. Their involvement is absolutely necessary if we are to address many of the dynamic statistical realities regarding heterosexual transmission in the Black community. According to the CDC, in 2009, Black women accounted for 30% of the estimated new HIV infections among blacks. Most (85%) black women with HIV acquired HIV through heterosexual contact. Heterosexual contact is the second leading mode of transmission among men.
So, the two tracks are well represented. By no means are they mutually exclusive either. It is like the science is the mind, and the advocacy is the soul. Actually, there are many events, protests, media coverage, luminaries and thousands of people from all over the world here this week! When you count what is happening in the many other Washington D.C. venues and streets (and I most certainly do), you can sense that there is an increasing level of energy around the possibility of our "Turning The Tide Together"! I will do what I can to share my perspective and capture the imagery here in the coming days. The conference and the energy from it needs to continue, and here we will create an atmosphere that is conducive to honest conversation regarding HIV.