What luck, that after splashing into dark waters at the end of what felt like a bottomless pit, hundreds of life preservers and boats would be steered my way. For the first time in my life I could feel inside of me and I knew that I was a Woman and I was Alive. I don't think I always felt that way before. HIV forced me out from behind my protective walls.
I needed to understand both what the heck I was thinkin' about myself in order to get this disease and what the heck I was gonna do about it now. No more going merrily along my own little path. I now had to find a way to learn to care about myself as well as others. I ended up redefining my being in the process. I learned about the AIDS community when I became a member of the Women Alive Coalition. We've got some wonderful guys (yes, straight and often single guys) who join us for support, but it's the sisterhood that I embrace.
Many of my friends know it was Marilyn Howell who brought me back alive by rekindling the fire within me. Her advocacy for women with HIV electrified my soul. I'd find myself sitting alongside her at policy meetings in West Hollywood. It didn't matter that I live in the San Fernando Valley. And when she died, only eight months after coming into my life, I knew it still didn't matter. I share her belief in the power of the voice.
As my involvement with Women Alive increases I continue to join hands and hearts with outstanding women. And whether they are HIV+ or not, we are a family here. I realize what blessings I have. This feeling gives me a healthy attitude considering the challenges we all face. I don't know what I'd do without this group. I don't ever want to find out. Women Alive has a dedicated and passionate group of women as members (a.k.a. clients), volunteers, and staff, as well as a committed Board of Directors.
I was thrilled to be invited to join the Board nearly two years ago. Most recently I was elected Board President. This organization honors positive women. As members, we have been treated to more medical updates, luncheons, arts and craft clubs, support groups, educational classes, and treatment advocacy than any small offshoot or "women's program" of larger AIDS service organizations.
Our backyard extends to the Valley and our living-room reaches to Lynwood. And yet I'm someone who can't stay still or quiet while more of us become infected. We are always on the prowl for more opportunities to reach out to our communities. We'll use our voices to demand greater involvement by women in clinical trials. We stand for the rights and freedoms of HIV+ people and advocate this empowerment at all levels.
As we prepare ourselves for a longer life reaching into the new millennium, Women Alive will continue to invite the voices and hearts of positive women everywhere to join us.
I am really excited to be part of the continued growth we are experiencing. I see us as a coalition of passions, colors, voices, pains, and desires. I rarely see fear, although when it screams out to be heard, this is the place where you'll find understanding till it's gone. I would like to thank the previous Board President for her tireless efforts in establishing the agency and developing the Board. Her commitment helped to build many of our programs, including support groups, Treatment Advocacy, Hot Line, Newsletter, and our strategic plan.
As an HIV+ woman, I do this for my own health; as an HIV+ person, I do this for all of us; and most personally, I do this for someone who no longer has a voice of her own.