Losing PWACC: We Remember, We Grieve, and Ultimately, We Move On and We Survive
What happens when an organization dies? What impact does it have on those it served? How does it affect their lives, their worlds? What kind of loss is felt? Do we try to remember and look back at what was once there? Do we grieve and mourn? Of course we do. As we do with all death, all loss.
In the Spring of 1994, I began participating in a support group at the Colorado AIDS Project (in the old building on 16th & Sherman.) After my first few meetings, a young man with bright hair, bright eyes and a bright set of beads dangling at his neck asked me if I would be interested in volunteer work for an organization called the People With AIDS Coalition. [That bright eyed, bejeweled man was Jeff Davis, the Editor of Resolute! and community leader who died in 1996.] I had mentioned that I was an English teacher and he asked if I would be interested in helping to proofread their newsletter, Resolute! I agreed. I had been officially diagnosed with AIDS a few months earlier and I desperately needed to focus my attention on some positive aspect of living with this disease. I soon found myself proofreading each issue from beginning to end a total of three times. Many things must be read more than once to be fully understood and appreciated. After the third reading each month of editorials, news briefs, medical updates, resources, bulletins, references, profiles and columns, I quickly realized two things: One, here was a warehouse of information and two, a vast amount of knowledge and experience. Knowledge and experience of women and men who were working, struggling and fighting for those living with AIDS and those affected and impacted by it.
Like many in the early 90's, I didn't think my chance of surviving this pandemic was great. I thought I was at the end of my life. Before acquiescing, I decided, firmly, to be a part of what was going on around me. I wasn't sure exactly what I could do. But I could try. And I could learn.
And what an education. What did we do at the Coalition? We helped people with their drug regimens -- both prescriptions and over the counter. We sold vitamins and nutritional supplements at or below cost, through the Denver Buyer's Club. And we provided prescription medications for those who had no funds, no income and no health insurance. We listened to the needs and concerns of the AIDS community. We tried to provide current, up-to-date information on the many different facets of this disease. We served on committees and advisory panels; attended meetings, conferences and seminars. We told the government how we felt ---our concerns, our fears, our apprehensions about an uncertain future. And we fought for Ryan White funding for all AIDS service organizations. In the two years of my work with the Coalition, I participated as a volunteer, a proofreader, and eventually a contributing writer for Resolute! I also had the privilege of serving on the Ryan White Council and on the Editorial Advisory Board for Resolute!
Ultimately, on a higher level, what was the PWA Coalition? It was the voice of a community struggling to survive a nightmare. It was the bastion and the beacon of the AIDS community throughout the Rocky Mountain area. It was a haven for new information, new ideas; for change in an often unchanging and uncompromising world. It was a platform from which our voices could be heard -- in the Mayor's office, the Governor's office, in Congress, in the Senate and in the courts. And ultimately we would be heard in Washington (under a different administration in different times).
A few years have passed since I have been actively involved in the AIDS community. Things have changed -- treatment has improved, new drugs and new therapies have changed this disease from a death sentence to a chronic, manageable illness. So what are we to do? Sit back? Relax? No! -- we must continue to educate, to inspire and to fight. Yes, we grieve. Yes, we mourn. But eventually we move on. We must. We have no choice.
In his defense in the Supreme Court for the Amistad Africans, John Quincy Adams referred frequently to the past -- to the heroes who forged the difficult path, who fought, and many times, won the difficult battles of injustice and inequality. With the memory of their strength, their courage, their wisdom, we are able to go on. We are able to face the future with new goals and new battles ahead.
What do we do when we lose a support system? What fears and concerns are we plagued with? Will our voice continue to be heard? Will it be answered? How do we go on?
With the strength, the undaunted courage and the wisdom of those who went before us. We survive and we move forward, always forward. We look to a new future and new challenges, new goals. We go on. We must. We have no choice.
Jerry Adams is a long-term survivor of HIV who has recently reconnected with us here at Resolute! You can expect to hear more from him in the future!
This article was provided by PWA Coalition Colorado. It is a part of the publication Resolute!.