Black women work hard in the HIV field—both those living with HIV and their HIV-negative allies—but they don’t always get the credit or resources they deserve for the work they do at agencies and activist groups, both national and regional.
That’s why, both on March 12 and leading up to it, the Positive Women’s Network is putting on a series of COVID-era online events making up its first-ever Celebrate and Honor Black Women in the HIV Movement Day. (Yes, you can learn more and register for all events at this link.)
Conceived by PWN’s Black staffers—including Tiommi Luckett, Evany Turk, Tyler Barbarin, and Venita Ray—#CelebrateBlackWomen will include a “Celebrate Black Women’s Talent Facebook Live” on Feb. 18, an art contest with a Feb. 28 deadline for submissions, and, on March 12, both a Twitter storm and a Town Hall.
“We wanted to respond to how the COVID pandemic was affecting our community, especially during a time of racial uprising where protesters were being badly treated,” says Little Rock’s Luckett, PWN’s communications and training assistant, who has been living with HIV almost nine years and has been in the movement for seven. “We’ve seen more white people voicing how unjust [police and legal treatment of Black people] was, as if they were seeing it for the first time. But this is our lives. No matter how much we smile when we come in the room, we come in with trauma. How can we heal? So we were thinking of things we could do to celebrate our Black female heroes in the HIV movement—not just those living with HIV, but those fighting alongside us.”
According to Dallas-area Turk, who has been living with HIV for 20 years and in the movement for 15, the idea for the events started with self-care, as the Black women of PWN were struggling with the stressors of the broader world while still having to do their daily work. “So Venita [Ray, PWN’s co-executive director] gave us a space where we could come together and talk about how we were feeling,” says Turk. “We decided we didn’t want to talk about the same old things about Blackness as a deficit, but to do something uplifting and celebratory.”
Both Luckett and Turk share a love for two particular Black women in the movement: Vanessa Johnson and Waheedah Shabazz-El. They are both longtime activists living with HIV who have founded or cofounded many groups for others who are positive.
“Those two women took me, as a trans woman, under their wing and called me their sister,” says Luckett. “Vanessa was right there with me the whole time as I became a speaker and a trainer, going into planning councils and decision-making tables.”
“I stalked them both on social media for months before I joined PWN,” laughs Turk.
How would they both like to see respect for Black women actualized in the movement in the coming years? “I’d like to see more resources being delivered to Black-led agencies,” says Luckett. “We’re still at a point where we’re fighting each other for resources and funding, and we can’t do the work that is necessary when we’re scraping together money to pay salaries. We’ve worked too hard for too long, and stipends just don’t do it. It becomes tokenism.”
Says Turk: “I would like to see agencies have a conversation with their Black staff around what’s happening. How do they experience working there as a Black person? I’d like to see agency leaders actually listening to their Black staff and producing a safe space for them to be honest about their experience.”
She continues: “I’d also like to see agencies do a comprehensive, professional racial-justice training with their entire staff. HIV is a symptom of racism, and if you’re going to work against HIV, you have to be honest about that.”
Once again, you can learn more about the events and register for them here. And don’t forget that the deadline for the art contest is Feb. 28!