Lisa Johnson-Lett is an HIV educator and advocate. She works closely on AIDS Alabama's Positive Organizing Project (POP) grant to increase the meaningful involvement and leadership of people living with HIV in advocacy efforts in Alabama through a series of peer-to-peer trainings and a scholarship initiative. We were privileged to speak with Lisa in recognition of her work and Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
This interview is a part of the series Positive Organizing Sheroes -- Highlighting Women Making a Difference.
How did you get involved in the HIV field?
I became involved in the field of HIV to help me out of a deep depression. Between crying, and isolating, I asked myself what can I do with these emotions? How can I put these tears into some sort of action? I became involved in Peer lead support groups. Hearing the stories of others inspired me to advocate on behalf of people living with HIV. Coming to group was therapy for my soul and made me into the advocate I am today. I became thirsty and in doing so I became whole and complete. I still thirst and that is why I still advocate.
Tell me about A+A: Alabama Positive Action, coordinated through your Positive Organizing Project grant.
Alabama Positive Action has been coordinated through Positive Organizing Project grant by involving all who are HIV+ to have meaningful involvement and stand by the principle of Meaningful Involvement of People Living with HIV/AIDS (MIPA). With technical assistance (TA), webinars, trainings (In person and webcast), and hosting awareness events we are directly involved in advocacy efforts at all levels.
Most recently, A+A hosted a peer-to-peer training summit "Falling in Love Again." Over 65 people living with HIV were trained by people living with HIV who are working in advocacy on the causes of HIV as well as pathways to hope upon diagnosis. Workshop offerings included "Share my story" which was designed to help participants find their voices and harness the impact of their stories. There was also a "Falling in Love Again" workshop that focused on empowerment and self-care and healing to address personal stigma and guilt.
The skill building efforts from the workshops will support an upcoming direct action that will take place during the AL legislative session to hold elected officials accountable to met the needs of PLHIV in Alabama.
On Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, what do you want people to know about HIV?
On Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day I want people to know that HIV is still alive and AIDS has not gone away. Shame and fear fuel the epidemic. With Advocacy Awareness plus Action, the epidemic will cease. The HIV community must deal with so many issues on top of HIV: racism, sexism and transphobia, socio-economic status, residence, lack of education, and lack of self-worth. With all of these other issues, HIV becomes neglected and our community becomes invisible to society. We must tackle all of these issues to end the epidemic.
Everyone has a status whether HIV- or HIV+ and the only way to confirm status is to get tested. If you are tested, get educated on ways to HIV can be prevented and informed how to stay in care because Treatment is Prevention.
Why is it important to start talking about HIV?
It is important to start talking about HIV to raise awareness and fight the stigma that is killing our communities. We don't talk about HIV because it is taboo. When we don't talk about HIV it does not make it go away. HIV needs to be common knowledge, so we can talk about at the everyday dinner table. We have to talk about HIV because as advocates it is our mandated call, our duty to warn. We need funding, we have to talk about HIV. We are Humans and it affects Humans, we have to start talking about HIV. Our babies are having babies without protected sex, we have to talk about HIV.
How do you stay motivated in this work?
I stay motivated in this field through having the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding for passion of which I do. I watch clips from the 80's to keep thy heart filled with the passion. Every time I feel burned out I watch this clip and remember the call and understand the power of living with HIV. There is power in holding space -- in sitting at the table -- filling seats no one else can fill because of my status. This is the empowerment that comes with embracing my HIV status and advocating for others who may not understand or who don't have a voice. As advocates we have to give each whisper a voice. We embody what we want to see in others. And in advocacy, we know we can't give up.
[Note from TheBody: This article was originally published by AIDS United on March 8, 2018. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]