TheBody.com Goes to the Big Easy: Reflections on USCA 2013
Or, the Symposium Goes South
By Mathew Rodriguez and Olivia Ford
October 2, 2013
We're back from New Orleans and the U.S. Conference on AIDS (USCA)! Back in mid-September, Mathew and I -- along with many other community members and TheBody.com colleagues -- thrived amidst the punishing heat and the mountains of fried meats, and reveled in the welcoming embrace of a regional HIV community that does a great deal of vital work in the face of profound resource constraints. Stay tuned for a spotlight series on the site that focuses on HIV/AIDS in the U.S. South, where we'll go more in depth into the topic, around the end of 2013 and early in 2014.
The four days of USCA are always such a tumble of faces and experiences, visioning and learning, that it's impossible for anyone to sum it all up neatly or completely. So, here's a nice, messy highlight reel of 10 conference moments that at least comes close to capturing my USCA:
- The booth! Met up with my esteemed colleague Mathew on Saturday afternoon, the day before the official opening, to transform this nondescript corner of a showroom floor ... into the veritable hub of information-sharing we stocked and staffed from Sunday morning through Tuesday evening.
The booth, before.
The booth, after!
- Rewarded ourselves afterward with a trip to the Central Grocery -- birthplace of the muffuletta, NOLA's iconic Italian sandwich. The inspiration to go came from former food journalist, current prevention educator and longtime TheBody.com community member, the lovely Jane Fowler. Even shared in halves with Mathew and with the cheese removed for, ahem, health reasons, it was still a helluva sammie that took another sitting to finish. Followed summarily by a trip to Café du Monde for beignets, not pictured!
Mathew, Jane and the muffuletta (from left to right).
- All the people I got to see in person, most of whom I only see this one time every year! This is my sixth consecutive USCA, and each year the "family reunion" aspect of the conference is all the more prominent for me. There were so many more than this, but for funsies, I'll narrow the list of people I saw to just folks we've profiled on TheBody.com for our long-running This Positive Life series; you may not get hugs like I got, but you can meet them and get a sense of their passion, wit and wonderfulness as well:
Stay tuned in the coming months for more This Positive Life interviews with people living with HIV and working in our communities in the southern U.S.
- Seeing Raquel Sapien, whom I had not seen since we first met at my very first HIV conference, in early 2008 (remember the National Conference on African Americans and AIDS, in Philadelphia? That was my first!) -- when I was a wee worker bee, barely three months into my time at TheBody.com. I once shared a "Deciding Moment" video via the Greater Than AIDS campaign; they had to cut mine short -- I get nervous on camera and, consequently, talk too much -- and the part left out actually involved Raquel and a moment at that very first conference! Keep your eyes peeled in the coming months for more from Raquel on TheBody.com ... and that's alllllll I'll say about that.
Raquel (on left), who's part of the CDC's fantastic "Let's Stop HIV Together" campaign, and me.
- All the new people I got to meet, including potential future colleagues and collaborators! Here's Mathew with the thoughtful, kind and brilliant Reed Vreeland -- they see each other all the time at ACT UP, but Reed and I, until that week, had never had the pleasure.
Reed and Mathew (from left to right).
- The release of the recommendations of the President's Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender-Related Health Disparities. Office of National AIDS Policy head Dr. Grant Colfax, and Lynn Rosenthal, the White House advisor on violence against women, cochair that working group; they spent several hours at an open conference session, unpacking the particulars of the recommendations and responding to questions and feedback from advocates. The comments from the crowd were dynamite. I wrote about this topic last year; stay tuned for a follow-up incorporating the working group's findings and quotes from the phenomenal women from this session. (I did take pictures at this session, but they didn't turn out very well. Sorry!)
- It's New Orleans -- we had to eat, a lot. Every USCA, I try to get as many of our bloggers together as possible for a "family meal." Here's this year's:
- Having an unexpected opportunity to participate in -- and have TheBody.com cosponsor, along with the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care -- a panel on adherence, and provide a media perspective on the topic. Our blogger Khafre Abif was on hand as well, sharing a firsthand community perspective. The panel was convened by TheBody.com's expert, the dear Dr. Ben Young, and his colleagues at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, Drs. Claudia Medina and Oscar Salinas, who were comparably personable, knowledgeable and passionate about their work. We hope to post highlights from the session in TheBody.com's Resource Center on Keeping Up With Your HIV Meds.
Me -- what am I looking at?? -- with Drs. Young, Medina and Salinas (from left to right).
- Being booth neighbors with Project Inform and, specifically, Alan McCord. They've created some amazing video resources on PrEP -- and a beautiful poster in their booth touting them -- which unfortunately would not fit in Alan's suitcase (or mine, and I tried on booth-breakdown day, believe me). Here's the poster:
- A tour by executive director Kim Moss, and fantastic conversations with some staff and residents, at Project Lazarus, a transitional housing facility for people living with HIV/AIDS in New Orleans that is so much more than the term "facility" betrays. One staffer was a college buddy of Mathew's. Thanks so much for the tour, Lily and Kim, and to the entire Project Lazarus community for welcoming us!
Mathew (on right) with college chum and Project Lazarus development associate Lily Hannigan.
A final point: Bloggers Mark (with video!), Patrick and Reggie have also summed up their experiences in New Orleans; be sure to give them a read.
Phew! A busy bunch of days, spent in the company of some of my most valued colleagues and favorite people -- including Mathew, through whose fresh gaze and insights I got to experience USCA as if for the first time all over again. I second all joy expressed in his recap below!
Cheers till soon,
Hello friends and family out there in the digital world! I had the honor of accompanying Olivia Ford to the United States Conference on AIDS -- my very first time at the conference and my very first time traveling in a career-related capacity. Geez, I guess it was a treasure-trove of firsts when I think about it. While perhaps Olivia offering her 10 moments is a happy coincidence, I'd also like to offer 10 moments that sum up my newfound love affair with New Orleans and USCA.
- New Orleans! It's beautiful! It's almost European or South American in feel. It was my first time in the Big Easy and it wrapped its big-and-easy arms around me quite nicely. I arrived three days early in New Orleans and stayed with some friends of mine I haven't seen since my college days, and it was a hoot-and-a-half to be in their presence in this new place! I ate, I drank, I was merry, and I learned what people can do when their entire paycheck isn't devoted to paying their rent!
- The food. Oy gevalt. I haven't eaten this well in a long time. Muffulettas -- an Italian sandwich invented in New Orleans -- twice the size of my face (see photo above). Beignets -- a zeppole-type creature -- so fluffy that it left my entire outfit covered in confectioners' sugar residue. A po'boy with about 30 fried shrimp on it. And, an extra-special luncheon with friend and supervisor Olivia Ford at a restaurant in the Bywater district called "Booty's," where they served us culinary street food delights from around the world.
- The family reunion-ness of it all! Have you ever been to a family reunion? You spend more time meeting family members you've never met before than talking to the ones you know! And this was no different -- except meeting members of TheBody.com's family (and the larger HIV family, overall) was an experience I could never have imagined. I met the lovely, wonderful, brilliant, soulful and warm Khafre Abif, who wrote one of my favorite essays ever on TheBody.com about HIV and youth. Gosh, meeting him was like meeting a tornado! He comes and goes so quickly, but when he's there, his presence is FELT! His new book is available, as well -- Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens: Prayers, Poems & Affirmations for People Living With HIV/AIDS.
I met the endlessly fabulous Mark S. King. It feels like Mark is a celebrity everywhere he goes. He just has an aura about him. And, through Mark S. King, I met one of my new favorite people, Antron, who will soon be a TheBody.com blogger himself! Mark and I were able to catch up away from the crowds a few times, and share some great conversations. Watch out for his already great profile to rise higher as he begins to sink his teeth into the fleshy world of social media!
Other members of our extended family that I met include rising star Patrick Ingram, veteran star Jane Fowler and friend-of-TheBody.com Cecilia Chung!
Gosh, who else was there? I met Peter and Kathy McLoyd whose This Positive Life entry is one of my very favorites to this day. As I walked in the door, I was greeted by Peter Staley!
- The love! I am only 24 years old, a bit of a novice in many ways, but the way I was so openly embraced by the community at USCA was overwhelming. The respect and love that emanated from people like Mark S. King and Khafre Abif warmed my soul.
- The men! OK, not to dwell on this part, but there are some good-looking guys in this field!
- Friend-cation! Ever been on a vacation with just your friends? USCA felt like that. So many people who I see while I'm up in New York were down in New Orleans, and I saw them every day in the conference, but also spotted some of them out dancing. Some of my favorite people -- Reed (see photo above), Stevie, Shirley, Anthony, Eric, Robert, DaShawn and, of course, Olivia -- made my time in New Orleans much less anxiety-ridden, because I knew so many people.
- The connections! People in the HIV field are an enthusiastic bunch and the professionals I met at this conference proved that right all over again for me. I met wonderful people from Portland, Seattle, Austin, Los Angeles, San Diego and, of course, New Orleans. Really cemented that I'm in the right field right now!
- Doing my own workshop! Thankfully, I was asked by David Stupplebeen of the Banyan Tree Project (a part of API Wellness Center) to present at USCA on "Social Media Strategies for HIV Providers" and our presentation went VERY well! I had people coming up to me the whole rest of the conference saying that our presentation did more in three hours than all the people their agency had hired to consult and to train them on social media!
David (on right) and me at our presentation.
- The new information! I was lucky enough to be able to attend the very first screening of an HIV criminalization movie (I attended with friends from ACT UP and The Sero Project) and afterward was able to talk with some activists around the nation who are trying to address some of our nation's harsh and stigmatizing HIV criminalization laws. This is an issue about which I am very passionate and watching the film was very important for me because, unlike other films I had seen based around individual storytelling, this one dealt with the legal reasons why these laws are such bad policy.
- The bonding! Real talk, y'all, I'm the luckiest employee in the world, because I have the best boss/ puts-the-super-in-supervisor I could ever ask for, and New Orleans came at a time when I hadn't seen her for a full week, and then we ended up living next to each other for four days (um, I smell sitcom!). I don't know what I, or TheBody.com, would do without Olivia Ford, and I hesitate to guess! I dedicate this blog, and my first time at USCA, to Olivia and want her to know that she was the ultimate doula in birthing this experience for me!
Until San Diego and USCA 2014!
Love to you all,
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