When It Came to USCA, I Was Neither Carrie Bradshaw Nor Jack Klugman

Charles Sanchez with his diva role model, Jennifer Holliday, at USCA 2016 (Credit: Gregg Cassin)
Charles Sanchez with his diva role model, Jennifer Holliday, at USCA 2016
Gregg Cassin

USCA was amazing. When I was chosen to be a Social Media Fellow at the United States Conference on AIDS, I was so excited. I'd never been to a conference before, and I was certain that I'd meet a lot of interesting people and learn things about HIV and its effects on folks in other parts of the country. I figured that I'd have plenty of time in the evenings to sit and write my thoughts each day, each one a clever Carrie Bradshaw-esque insight on some aspect of the conference.

I also had mad hopes that the conference would be like a business convention, people breaking out of their shells in the tropical Florida environment, with wild, lampshade-on-the-head cocktail parties each night, and half-naked people running from room to room. "What happens at the AIDS conference stays at the AIDS conference," wink-wink, nudge-nudge. These ideas stem from a movie-of-the-week I watched when I was a kid in the '70s, I think starring Jack Klugman.

The former part was true: I did indeed meet a lot of interesting people and learn new things about HIV. The latter, well, if swingin' parties happened at the conference, I didn't know about 'em. I was asleep. I was exhausted!

I was one of 12 people from across the country selected to be a Social Media Fellow, and everyone had such impressive resumes and was doing such important work that I felt a little under-qualified.

My fellows were all amazing and talented and friendly, and it was an honor and a pleasure to be among them. One of our fellowship requirements was to post on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and/or Snapchat) about the conference every day.

We were encouraged to challenge ourselves, either by using a social media platform that we weren't familiar with, or by using a familiar platform in a new way. The conference itself was jam-packed!

The four days included sessions and workshops about everything from HIV criminalization, to reaching marginalized communities with HIV information and care, to PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and even to a session on anal health.

I met activists and influencers I'd only known online or by their photos, and I even met some celebs (including my beloved Jennifer Holliday!).

By the end of each day, I felt so overwhelmed and filled up with data and stories that I didn't know how to begin to write my clever blog insights. I know some of the younger folk went out on the town, but I'm settled into middle age, and I was tired!

So my planned blogging didn't happen, but I did create some social media posts that I'm very proud of. I challenged myself by writing longer posts on Facebook than are my norm, and I did some live videos. I tried my hand at Snapchat, but I think that's better left to the youngin's.

Huge thanks to FHI 360 for nominating me for the fellowship, and to the National Minority AIDS Council and the Black AIDS Institute for everything they did for the Social Media Fellows at the conference. I wouldn't trade one moment of the intense conference for a whole lampshade party.