September 28, 2010
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
It's funny that even though I have been writing about HIV/AIDS since 2006, this year's United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) was my first opportunity to attend any type of HIV/AIDS conference -- ever.
And I am so glad that I went, because it was amazing.
USCA, which was hosted by the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), gave me so many opportunities to connect in a way that I never have before. Despite my job here at TheBody.com, I admit that there are times when I feel detached from the rest of the HIV/AIDS community, because I spend so much of my time at my desk, on the computer or on the phone. Don't get me wrong: When I can, I do attend HIV events and talk shop with my peers here in New York City. But it's not nearly enough as I would like.
During those four days in Orlando, Fla., whether I was greeting folks at TheBody.com's booth, in the lobby checking my e-mail, eating a meal or having a drink at the hotel bar, there was always an opportunity to either bump into someone I hadn't seen in a while or strike up a conversation with someone new. Not to mention that I was able to finally meet people face-to-face whom I had interviewed over the phone in the past, such as Archbishop Joyce Turner-Keller from Baton Rouge, La., and Brenda Chambers from Salt Lake City, Utah. It was great to catch up and hang out.
Also, attending the sessions, all-day institutes and nightly mixers allowed me to do my job better: I was able to check the pulse of the community, see what stories are flying under the radar, and learn about what innovative work is being done and which new leaders TheBody.com should profile. For instance, one theme at USCA was HIV/AIDS in the U.S. South. I need to give the epidemic in that region more attention. The same goes for transgender issues, Asian/Pacific Islander issues and issues affecting the Native-American community, all of which are areas that TheBody.com traditionally hasn't focused on very much.
For our This Positive Life video series, I interviewed half a dozen people living with HIV at the conference -- all of their stories were moving and inspirational. One woman, Rachelle McNair, was rushed into the hospital last year; she was diagnosed with AIDS, told she had zero CD4 cells and was suffering from swine flu. She lost the ability to see, walk and take care of herself. The doctors sent her home to die, but she never stopped having faith that she was going to live. Now, Rachelle is healthy, married to a pastor and uses her role as mother of the church to raise awareness around HIV in her community in Orlando, Fla.
Hearing stories such as Rachelle's -- and experiencing USCA in general -- reminded me why I do this work, and it gave me something that we all need from time to time: a renewed sense of hope.
During USCA, NMAC created the following PSA with the help of people who attended the conference. Its purpose is to remind everyone -- particularly those who may not think about HIV/AIDS very often -- that the struggle against HIV is far from over, and that there are things that each of us can do to make a difference. Watch the video:
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