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The AIDS Survival Project Story: 15 Years of Advocacy, Self-Empowerment, Partnership

By Rob Nixon

November/December 2003

Rob Nixon

This year marks the 15th anniversary of AIDS Survival Project. Our year-long celebration will be capped November 15 with an Anniversary Gala at downtown Atlanta's elegant Commerce Club (34 Broad Street) from 6: 00 to 8:00 p.m. The evening will feature fine food and drink, entertainment and awards presented to the following people for their commitment and accomplishments in the fight against HIV/AIDS:

Sandra Thurman

Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy in the Clinton administration and former Executive Director of AID Atlanta. A recognized expert on AIDS issues, Ms. Thurman has provided testimony before the US Senate, the White House Conference on HIV/AIDS and the National Commission on AIDS. During her tenure at the White House, she ensured that people living with HIV, as well as AIDS service agencies, had a voice in the creation of federal AIDS policy and focused the administration's attention on the global pandemic.

Dr. Michael Saag

Associate Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Founder (1988) and director of the 1917 AIDS Outpatient Clinic, which provides medical and social services to approximately 1, 000 patients with HIV/AIDS. Dr. Saag has had a major impact on the accessibility of cutting-edge research to those who live in the South and has always guaranteed that clinical trials are accessible to those living in the metro Atlanta area.

Jamey Rousey

Coordinator of the Atlanta AIDS Partnership Fund; former Deputy Director of AIDS Survival Project and Executive Director of AIDS Treatment Initiatives. A longtime survivor of AIDS who has worked both professionally and as a volunteer for many organizations, Mr. Rousey has worked towards greater diversity and inclusion in the AIDS community and has focused attention on the need to support both current services and unmet community needs.

Sandra Thurman
Dr. Michael Saag
Jamey Rousey

The Gala will also be a chance for us all to look back to our beginning and recognize the values and achievements that have made this coalition of people affected by HIV what it is today. In 1986, a small group of People with AIDS (PWAs) in Atlanta first met to discuss the availability of programs geared for individuals already infected by HIV and living with AIDS. At that time, being infected meant that self-empowerment and maintained quality of life were, at best, limited, and that death was imminent. Most of these individuals were volunteers within the local AIDS service organization community, which was targeted primarily toward general education and providing basic available services. Demanding treatment research and advocating basic individual rights were not a focus for any of the existing organizations. They were organized primarily by health care professionals or development specialists and rarely included HIV-positive people in the major decision-making processes.

In the course of developing a new kind of AIDS organization over the next few years, this group of PWAs turned to the Denver Principles, the first assertion of the rights of people with HIV. First articulated in a meeting of PWAs and activists in Denver in 1983, these principles called on the public for active support in the struggle against discrimination, stigma and scapegoating. Of all the rights and responsibilities set forth in the Denver Principles, perhaps the greatest influence on the founders of AIDS Survival Project was the conviction that people with HIV must be their own representatives -- involved at every level of decision-making, serving on the boards of provider groups and having an equal voice in all matters concerning their lives and well-being. Out of the commitment to this ideal, a new coalition of people affected by HIV was born. Planning sessions were held, a charter drawn up and the new organization held its first board meeting in April 1988.

Today, that organization has grown to become a major force in the fight against AIDS and a valuable source of tools for living for thousands of people, not only in metro Atlanta but throughout the state. But the vision and dedication of the founders and the commitment to those grassroots principles continue to be the backbone of our organization. What distinguishes AIDS Survival Project from other AIDS service organizations is a structure and mission that goes beyond "client services." From the very beginning, we have placed a high priority on advocating for human rights and fair treatment for all people living with HIV/AIDS and providing the means for individuals to become their own advocates. By taking part in the advocacy work AIDS Survival Project does individually and in coalition with many other groups, people with AIDS have the means to become a powerful, united voice for equitable and rational public policy.

Our mission is built on the principle of self-empowerment, providing those affected by HIV with the information and support needed to make well-informed choices. "Give someone a fish," the saying goes, "and they will eat for a day. Teach someone to fish, they will eat for a lifetime." Through volunteerism, peer counseling, support groups and up-to-date comprehensive treatment education, thousands of individuals have been able to manage their care, take control of their lives and help others who face the same challenges.

This foundation of partnership was built into AIDS Survival Project 15 years ago as a coalition of HIV-positive individuals and their families, friends, caregivers and others concerned about this epidemic. Anyone who is HIV positive may elect members of our Board of Directors, 50% of whom must also be HIV positive. This unique structure ensures a passionate and committed response to the diverse and changing needs of people with HIV/AIDS because their voices are our voices. We also partner with other agencies and professionals across the spectrum of health care and social services who provide valuable information about all aspects of living with the disease and about accessing resources available throughout Atlanta and the state.

While it may seem an odd choice of words to mark 15 years of fighting a global pandemic that continues to spread and take so many lives, there is much to celebrate in AIDS Survival Project's anniversary. It is the countless individuals through the years who have made such a difference in the lives of others that we honor and celebrate. We hope you will be able to join us in making this an anniversary year and an unforgettable Gala event truly worthy of their achievements.

This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

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