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HIV Activists on Organizing and Self-Care in the Trump Era

March 20, 2017

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The 2016 presidential election in the United States spurred many people to step into activism for the first time or to amplify their efforts. But many have been organizing for years. Here's how some longtime community leaders are balancing organizing and self-care strategies.

Tiommi Jenae Luckett

Tiommi Jenae Luckett (Credit: Carmen Bradford)

Tiommi Jenae Luckett

Steering Committee, U.S. Caucus of People Living With HIV
Positively Trans
The Well Project

What does your organizing look like?

Organizing for me as a person living with HIV in the era of Trump has been innumerable conference calls, emails, think tanks and telephone calls to senators and representatives urging them to stand on the right side of history and denounce these targeted legislative attacks being handed down from the office of the president. It has been signing and sharing petitions. I have been taking notes and sharing information through social media.

How do you practice self-care, especially during these intense bouts of organizing?

Seeing as how I have been organizing behind the scenes, the images that I see on my laptop, tablet and phone can become quite overwhelming. Social media activism is in print and online and the hateful comments that are left can have a crippling effect on one's psyche. At those times, I unplug and go off the grid with the exception of phone calls and texts.

Steven 'Humble' Mangual

Steven "Humble" Mangual (Credit: Victoria Law)

Steven "Humble" Mangual

Prison services coordinator, Hudson Valley Community Services, Inc. (HVCS)
Volunteer with On the Count: The Prison and Criminal Justice Report WBAI/99.5 FM

What does your organizing look like?

I am the prison services coordinator for HVCS. I volunteer with WBAI 99.5 FM/Pacifica radio, with a specific show called On the Count: The Prison and Criminal Justice Report. I am a producer and co-host and do communications. It runs every Saturday from 11 am to 12 pm.

As prison service coordinator for HVCS, we're contracted through the Criminal Justice Initiative grant of the AIDS Institute. We go inside the six NYS prisons that are in the Sullivan County region. I go in to all six facilities, and we work directly with the PACE program -- the Prisoners for AIDS Counseling and Education program. We provide trainings; we do lectures; we do counseling; and we do rapid HIV testing. More importantly, we do linkage to care and discharge planning for the HIV-positive people who are returning home. I make sure there are no gaps in services; we link to care out here. It's really unique for me because the PACE program is where I first learned about HIV while I was incarcerated. I was a student, then became a facilitator over 20 years ago, so to be back now is full circle.

I am formerly incarcerated. I served 14 years in the NYS Department of Corrections. I've been home almost 10.5 years working in the field of HIV and criminal justice.

How do you practice self-care?

When it comes to myself, it's so much easier to help someone else reach that point, but I try to eat healthy; I try to get as much rest as I can; I do a lot of reading and meditating; my family keeps me focused. I have a beautiful family -- my wife and I have six kids between the two of us, two grandchildren and one on the way. It's a beautiful family, so I make sure that I'm taking care of myself so I don't burn out. I have been there. I take as much time off as I need.

I don't eat red meat; I don't eat pork; I try to stay away from sweets. I don't exercise as much as I should. I try to exercise, but I spend more of my time on forms like meditation. That helps a lot.

Donna Hylton

Donna Hylton (Credit: Victoria Law)

Donna Hylton

Founder, From Life to Life
Member, National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women
Speaker at the Jan. 21 Women's March in Washington, D.C.

What does your organizing look like?

My focus is women, so what does that mean? It means a lot of things, especially in the climate that we're in. The majority of women I know have been incarcerated and experienced violence at some point, if not in their entire lives. I believe it's going to take women being really in the forefront to have a shift in this movement, to bring any kind of change. We're at a critical moment, and it's going to take, in the words of my friend Aida, "ordinary people doing extraordinary things."

It's a lot of outreach, creating events and spaces where we can come together, women and people from all across the nation [can] come together and put our heads together, our experiences together, and figure out what do we do and the responses. Rallies are great, but rallies are not the simple solution. You need organizing. I call myself a "network leader." It's weaving those networks that are there. How do we bridge them, how do we come together?

How do you practice self-care?

Yesterday, I really didn't do anything. Today, I'm not really doing much. Especially since I had this stroke, I've had a little extra care. I walk and meditate, like I just did now to go to the pharmacy. Just take time out. I don't even look at the emails; I will not respond to email because that's work. Phone calls. I really have to be careful in that because, if I'm no good, the movement is still going to be there, but I won't be there.

So, definitely, take time off for self, whatever you need, if it's 10 or 15 minutes during the day.

I definitely think about what I eat and drink a lot of water. I even added some raw vinegar to some water, just a little teaspoon to 12 ounces or eight ounces. I walk, it's my form of exercise and my walking is my meditation. Sometimes, I'll just play music; music is soothing for me. I'll just put on some music and go someplace else in my mind. It doesn't matter [what kind of music]; it can be classical, opera. I just don't like this hardcore hip-hop; it's not for me. I can't take the cursing and the craziness and the calling women names. It's anti- everything I do and stand for, I just can't do it.

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