I've been a member of Being Alive since 2008. After being diagnosed with HIV and having a very difficult time accessing services, care and still waiting for an appointment to get case-managed at AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), someone reading my blog all the way in Australia sent me a message telling me to go to Being Alive.
As many of you know, I was already over a year into homelessness when I was diagnosed. When I walked through the doors of Being Alive I was very nervous and worried that I'd be judged for being homeless. Topping things off, I had just been in a bloody fist fight the night before for my laptop and digital camera. I was dirty and had not been able to access a shower in over a week. I did my best to clean up in the bathroom at the Hollywood and Highland Center, but even that wasn't much help.
The first person I met was Craig. I told him I was there to see about being a client. He told me to have a seat and he'd get someone to see me. I met with Bart for about 30 minutes before I broke down in tears. I was carrying so much and it just felt safe for me to release a little bit. Bart went to get me a cold towel for my face and we began to talk about things going on in my life. I had a chemotherapy appointment the next day and I had no clue as to where I was going after that. To say that I was very lost and beginning to get very depressed is a huge understatement.
Bart told me about the ceramics studio and right away I started going to the studio. That studio became my safe place and from the very first day of going to Being Alive, Bart, Craig, Kevin and the staff became my blessing in the storm.
Recently John Balma asked me if I would like to attend the Spirit of Hope Awards. I was shocked, because I'm never invited to something as prestigious as the Spirit of Hope Awards, which recognize individuals who have worked in the trenches of HIV and AIDS. All honorees are selected entirely by people living with HIV or AIDS.
The ceremony was held at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip, where comedian Bruce Vilanch served as Master of Ceremonies. The night featured a silent auction, entertainment by Scotch Loring and awards were given to the UCLA AIDS Research Team, Mondo Guerra of Project Runway, (season 8) Academy Award Winner David Weissman for his film We Were Here and my personal favorite, the Emmy Award Winning actor, Leslie Jordan who delivered a heartfelt and damn funny speech that drew laughs, cheers and plenty of applause when he told certain members in attendance to "shut the fuck up."
I also had the honor of being introduced to Mr. David Weissman, by John Balma. I was able to share my film project Breaking the Silence with him and he was very generous with his advice and guidance.
It was time well spent raising money for an organization that for me and many others has been a place of peace, love and safety. An organization that does far more than just say they care or work in the field of HIV and AIDS, but demonstrates their compassion and great care to its members by offering a wide array of quality services free of charge that include ceramics, emotional support, wellness center, education, advocacy, prevention and speakers bureau in an environment that supports as well as encourages a better quality of life.
Twenty-nine months of homelessness is now nearly three years behind me, my cancer is in remission, I've spoken on Capitol Hill twice, continue to run my Do Something Saturday and Unplugging HIV outreaches which I started while homeless, published two books (29 Months and Occupy LA), facilitate an HIV support group for people of color, currently filming a documentary Breaking the Silence and I now write for PositiveLite.com, Canada's Online HIV Magazine. But most of all I am healthy and I now have an awesome doctor (Dr. Ardis Moe) terrific clinic (North East Valley Clinic) and am currently not required to take any HIV medications. HIV is no longer something that I'm afraid of and because of places like Being Alive I am able to help people living with HIV and educate my friends about HIV and AIDS.
As I said before, Being Alive was a blessing in the storm for me, and from the happenings in my personal life I've learned what my "nia" (purpose) is. I've been able to learn, grown and come out on the other side a more compassionate human being with a huge desire to be of service. To this day they (Being Alive) continue to allow me to grow and evolve with the caring, supportive services they offer day in and day out, without fail, without guilt, without shame, without stigma but with great pride and compassion.
I am proud to be a member of Being Alive, honored to have had the opportunity to attend the Spirit of Hope Awards and humbled that they have allowed me to serve people with HIV through my outreach efforts.
Originally published in PositiveLite.com, Canada's Online HIV Magazine.