I am sitting here as the coordinator preparing for a meeting tomorrow for the Stigma Index Project interviewers and core members to discuss our next steps in developing strategies for eliminating stigma in our communities. It dawns on me that I am actually working to coordinate a meeting, me! -- a torn up from the floor up, ex-con, drug addicted, homeless black woman living with HIV ... who would have thought?

I think back to April 15, 2001, when I received my diagnosis and felt that life as I knew it was over. Here I am, working to help other women living with HIV to feel whatever they need to feel and how to grow through those feelings and come out the other side feeling something other than shame, guilt, and the incomprehensible demoralization that many of us have felt after receiving our diagnoses.

I am caught off-guard with a flood of emotions that include deep gratitude and appreciation for an amazing GOD that gave me a wonderful support system and has placed exactly what I needed at every step of the journey that still continues. I know what it feels like to have hope when once there was hopelessness, to have strength where once there was weakness, to feel loved when you felt unlovable. I want my journey to be filled with women that also know that feeling, and I desperately want to be a part of the process for as many as will allow me.

I have spent many years wearing a mask for every occasion; what a feeling of freedom to embrace the "betta Meta" that continues to emerge! I now have to freedom to continue to search deep inside of myself to nurture and mold and love the woman deep inside of me. I pray that I am in some way able to help other women living with HIV know that kind of freedom ... who would have thought?

Who indeed would have thought that contracting HIV would be one of the finest moments of my life. Who would have thought that I would have the courage to speak, and walk in MY TRUTH ... what an amazing feeling! Who would have thought that I would find the woman emerging with strength, courage, love, grace, and joy. Who would have thought that I would some day know what TRUE freedom really feels like?

I am so very grateful to the women that allowed me to grow at my own pace and who loved me when I did not know how to love myself, because I had no idea who I was.


Meta Smith-Davis is a PWN-USA Louisiana co-chair.