Why We Need To Center Reproductive Justice in Our HIV/AIDS Work

A View of the HIV/AIDS Landscape

Step into the fourth decade of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. The world faces a striking phenomenon: increasingly high HIV/AIDS transmission rates among youth and women of color in under-resourced communities.  Alongside increased transmission rates among socially and politically marginalized groups, persistent gender inequalities prevail that have subjected women to both high HIV vulnerability and poor access to care.

These circumstances imperil the health and survival of all women, particularly marginalized women - women who are poor, working-class, undocumented immigrants, and women of color.  More than ever before, the overlapping forces that facilitate risk and undermine access to basic services and qualify life require that we embrace a reproductive justice (RJ) approach. Ultimately, RJ will determine how equipped we are to fight the raging health battles we face today.

 

What is Reproductive Justice

An RJ approach to HIV/AIDS allows us to address the myriad ways HIV/AIDS shapes women’s reproductive futures. As noted by RJ activist Loretta Ross, RJ is “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” This approach emphasizes the need for “women and girls to have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives.”

RJ activists have long argued for a politics that transcends approaches to health based solely on “individual choice” and privacy-based claims to legal abortion.  RJ understands that the idea of “choice” gets more tricky in contexts dominated by abuse and sexual exploitation, as well as racialized and class stratification in access to care.  It recognizes that when intimate aspects of women’s lives become crucial sites for political battles over health, welfare, and law and order, some bodies become more undeserving than others.

In the context of HIV/AIDS, RJ provides us with the tools to allow women to access the resources, services, and care needed to control their reproductive capacities and live healthy lives. Its emphasis on multi-layered approaches to service, advocacy, and organizing offers a strategic vision to address holistic health and meaningful living.

 

RJ & HIV/AIDS

 

RJ cuts across many, if not all, issues contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Various factors heighten women’s vulnerability – lack of awareness of sexual health rights, access to timely and quality perinatal care, abuse, and the distribution of wealth and public services. Persistent inequities in health care quality coupled with limited access to health knowledge and socioeconomic opportunities create fundamental human rights issues. Addressing the underlying factors that shape vulnerability and risk is crucial to the long-term control of the epidemic.

 

RJ sheds light on several human rights issues to which the AIDS epidemic adds an ongoing, frightening dimension. Like access to contraceptives, access to knowledge and services about HIV/AIDS as well as our sexual and reproductive health rights are RJ concerns. These concerns must intersect with our HIV/AIDS interventions, as well as our agendas for racial justice, gender equality, and health research.

 

 

The Future of HIV and RJ Work

 

I’ve taken this on in my own work. My name is Jallicia Jolly. I am a 3rd year PhD student at the University of Michigan studying the coping strategies of HIV-positive women in Detroit, MI and Kingston, Jamaica. As a Jamaican American ethnographer, reproductive justice advocate and HIV/AIDS peer educator, I remain fascinated by the interplay among culture, sexuality, gender, and illness. While exploring the dimensions of survival in these different geographic contexts, I hope to continue documenting the myriad ways that HIV/AIDS has reconfigured Black women’s lives, relationships, and aspirations.

Jallicia is a Jamaican American PhD student at the University of Michigan studying HIV/AIDS, reproductive justice, and coping. Follow her Twitter (@jallicia) and Instagram (@iamjallicia).

 

 

 

 

Grief and Loss: Transitions, Death, Passing and Passed Away

Hello Family and Friends,

I am so excited to have been asked to write blogs for Gospel against Aids (GAA)  I would like to give honor and thanks to God, GAA, my friends, and family for allowing me this opportunity of sharing information and inspiration. Please enjoy this blog regarding transitions.

When going through this great maze we call life, we are always faced with the harsh realities of death. Some people have a hard time discussing this natural occurrence because it makes us think of our own mortality. I never will forget when my father and mother called me over to their home and stated we must talk to you about their wishes. Like most adult children, I was shocked and thought, “wishes about what?” Then my father just stated “our death”. Shocked and frighten my immediate response was, “Do you know something I don’t or are you going somewhere soon?”  You know how we do trying to pretend that we hadn’t heard anything really and hope to God, that your parent maybe experiencing a senior moment and will forget the subject at hand and will move onto something else.

My father was a visionary. He believed in preparation; he wanted to make sure that his family were taken care of and that his final wishes were being respected and accepted. I know you must be wondering after I used the comment “was a visionary” did I mean to say that my father had passed away? Yes, that is what I mean. My father died on October 31, 2014, yes family, on Halloween. I really didn’t care for this made up holiday anyway, but my father was my anchor through all my storms, my hero, my knight in shining armor, and my secret admirer transitioned home to be with the Lord. Would you like to know what the conversation was regarding my fathers and mothers final request thoughts one year before my father’s death?

As I said previously, they called me over to discuss their final wishes. I knew that they didn’t want to be place in a casket. They didn’t want anyone looking down on them and making comments such as: “He looks so peaceful, “looks like he’s just sleeping”,” oh he sure looks good”, “ they put him away nice.” So my father said, “we have made arrangements when the time comes we are to be cremated and our ashes will be place into an urn and put into a mausoleum.”  I asked “would you like a memorial service to be held in your honor?” My dad said, “That would be fine I want photos of me and friends a family gathered sharing stories of my life and adventures in golf”. My dad continued by saying I know this will be a lot to ask of you, but if I go before your mother, I will need you to be strong and help her to handle my state of affairs, can you do this?”

I was so numb to the idea that they wanted to be cremated. My beloved parents reduced to ashes.  I had such a hard time of accepting this decision until I realized that at all funerals the Pastor always says “ashes to ashes dust to dust”; it was in that moment that I realize that we are all but dust when we are born into this world. During that moment I realized and was proud of the fact that my father was such a visionary and wanted to ensure that his family was protected even in his death. So when I got that dreaded call from my mother while I was at work, I won’t lie to you. I went through the Dr. Krubler Ross stages of death: Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

 Anger: I was angry with my dad for leaving us and cursed his name as I threw everything on my desk to the floor. I cried uncontrollably as to the who, the what, the when, the where, and the how to comfort my mother during this time and begin making the calls to my family and friends regarding his passing.

Denial: I know I must be tripping that this was a bad dream that I keep reliving. My dad is not dead. I got that message wrong. As my hands shook I called my mother back, only to hear her crying in my ear as to when I would arrive at their home? I stated in most calming voice is there anything I can get for you as I head on over to your house? My mother, stated no sweetie, these nice police officers said that they would stay with me until your arrival.

Bargaining as I drove to my parent’s home from work which was an hour away from my job, I asked God please to give my dad another chance to get it right. He can be stubborn, mean, and prideful, but my Father in heaven, he doesn’t know any better. But one thing I know for sure is that he loves his family so much. I promise I will watch him harder when his memory fails, I promise I will take the keys away from him so cannot drive and be a possible cause of harm to himself or others. I promise to be a better daughter to my folks.  Oh please Father in heaven, don’t let this be true!

Depression:  My father is dead, my father died today, I am fatherless, I will not be able to hear his voice when he says “hello, daughter of mine”.  These are the various thoughts that ran through my mind as I drove to my parent’s home to be with my mother. How can I help my mother through this loss? They have been married for almost 60 years, she must feel that she has lost the love of her life, how do I begin to help her through this and also help rebuild my life as well? Oh God, what do we do now?

Acceptance as I pulled into my parent’s driveway, I remembered all the lessons my father tried to teach me and the joy in his voice and smile on his face when he saw me walk across the stage to graduate from graduate school with honors. As I rang the bell to go into the house, my mother and daughter met me at the door. It was in that moment when I saw her face and we all embraced, I knew we would get through this because that is what my father would have wanted to see that his family would continue to go on.

If you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time. However, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages—and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.” stages—and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

Losing someone or something you love or care deeply about is very painful. You may experience all kinds of difficult emotions and it may feel like the pain and sadness you're experiencing will never let up. These are normal reactions to a significant loss. But while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew you and permit you to move on.

  • Face your feelings. You can try to suppress your grief, but you can’t avoid it forever. In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.
  • Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way. Write about your loss in a journal. If you’ve lost a loved one, write a letter saying the things you never got to say; make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating the person’s life; or get involved in a cause or organization that was important to him or her.
  • Look after your physical health. The mind and body are connected. When you feel good physically, you’ll also feel better emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.
  • Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.
  • Plan ahead for grief “triggers.” Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones can reawaken memories and feelings. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that it’s completely normal. If you’re sharing a holiday or lifecycle event with other relatives, talk to them ahead of time about their expectations and agree on strategies to honor the person you loved.

The first order of business is to take a few minutes to absorb what has just transpired. You’ve just been informed that a loved one has died unexpectedly: You may be numb, overcome with grief, in a state of panic or going through any number of reactions. These feelings are normal. However, you have work ahead of you hard work. If you’re the deceased’s next of kin, you have a responsibility to notify others. However, this doesn’t mean you must do it on your own. Enlist the help of a good friend to do this task for you. While some calls might be best coming from you, most people will understand if you have a good friend, spouse or sibling call on your behalf.

The phone calls can be brief. It may help to have a list of what information should be relayed, such as the nature of the death (if you wish to reveal it), anticipated funeral date and funeral-home arrangements. If you don’t want to go into detail about the nature of the death, you are not obligated. However, people are curious and will ask, “How did he die?” or “What happened?” Be prepared by coming up with an answer you feel comfortable with. For example, maybe he died unexpectedly in a car accident.

What helped our family as I stated before, that my father had made arrangements, if he were to have transition here in the state of Arizona, the crematory would have come to pick up his body but because my father was killed in another state we had to pay extra to have his autopsy, death certificates, and have his remains shipped. Our biggest fear was that his remains would not be there in time for the date that we had set for his home going celebration. I think the most challenging part for me was summarizing my father’s life and ambitions into one page and selecting photos for the home going program and those that we wanted to have framed and make copies for family members and friends to have memories. I hope what I have shared with you this month family while very emotional for me, will be some assistance and inspirational to you. Death is not an end but a slumber until our fathers in Heavens return. So, when you are faced with a loss of a loved one remember the 27th Psalm “though I walk through the valley shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thy staff and thy rod they comfort me” let my words be a comfort to you.

 

Hugs to all,

 

Ms. E

Testimony Tuesday: "I couldn't do it Alone"

I’ve contributed to the GAA “Words of Wisdom” blog previously about HIV and nutrition. In that post, I mentioned the role that nutrition played in my recovery from alcoholism. Recovery from any disease rarely comes about solely on the merit of one's own efforts, and my case is no exception. Here is some of my story:

In 2011, my family convinced me to go to inpatient treatment in Atlanta, Georgia. In this facility I had the opportunity to recover both mentally and physically from the havoc drugs and alcohol had reeked on me. The professionals of the treatment center provided me with medical attention and daily counseling as I learned to live again. My treatment lasted 5 months, and the staff was there for me every step of the way (and I wasn't always easy to deal with!).

After treatment I realized that still much work was to be done if I hoped to achieve a full recovery from the disease of alcoholism; I had to heal spiritually. My family continued to support me, and I began attending meetings of a 12-step fellowship. I became actively involved in the fellowship and got a sponsor who helped me work the twelve steps. Through this work I regained my God-Consciousness, and my life hasn't been the same since.

Members of the fellowship are still some of my best friends, and we provide each other incredible support as we walk the road of recovery. I am who I am today because of His presence in my life, but also because of theirs. I couldn't do it alone.

Sam LaMantia

 

Peace and Disclosure: How Sharing Your Story Can Unburden Others

Hello Family and Friends,

 

I’m back, and as always am so excited to have been asked to write blogs for Gospel against Aids (GAA) I would like to give honor and thanks to God, GAA, my friends, and family for allowing me this opportunity of sharing information and inspiration, please enjoy this blog regarding peace.

Have you ever heard of the phrase “Let there be peace, and let it begin with me”. In the back of my mind I often wondered what that phrase meant; did it have to do with world peace or individual peace? I believe that this phrase may be speaking about an individual peace and this is why. When I first derived at my personal inner peace it was a warm June afternoon, my colleague and I were doing recruitment for our job at an AIDS awareness conference. The speakers were various women from around the world who shared their individual stories on how they contracted the HIV virus and how they have come to have inner peace with themselves as to knowing that they are still women worthy of loving and living life to the fullest.

I thought how very brave they were. I was so overcome with emotions for these women who were sharing such personal information about themselves to a roomful of strangers. I thought how they could have found an inner peace with themselves when they are living with this deadly disease and this person who gave them this disease goes unpunished. The more they talked about what they have had to endure while living with this disease, my heart got real heavy when I thought how society makes people who are living with HIV at times feel a since of shame and often times the person who is living with the disease feels a sense loneness . It was in that moment when I heard the Director of the program for the event asked if we could join in prayer for these brave women who came to share their personal stories of living with HIV.

It was during this prayer that the Director stated that the Holy Spirit had placed within her spirit that there was someone within the audience that had been withholding a secret and that secret was making them feel such a burden that the spirit told her to tell that individual that it is safe to share that secret here and that God is with them. In that moment I moved slowly toward the front, I heard my co-worker asked where I was going and I didn’t answer it was as if I were in a trans or something I walked slowly to the podium and the Director hugged me and said, “it’s alright baby, say what’s on your heart”. As I stood there in front of these strangers I stated my name and that I have been living with HIV for some time, I told these roomful of strangers about the night of the rape that had occurred in my hotel room after my arrival for a conference in which I was there to provide a training for my job.

I told them about me going for some water down the hall from my room, and I had my room key and I heard the door go click behind me. When I returned to my room, I took a shower, looked over my notes for the training that I was scheduled to present drank my water and left the television on, as I slept someone came into my room had on dark colors looked like a ski mask and placed a knife to my throat and said that if I screamed that he would kill me. Of course I cried and stated that you don’t want to do this, as I felt my pajamas being pulled roughly away from me I stated that you can take this body but you cannot take this sprit, you can take this body but you cannot take this spirit. It was then I felt something hit me over my head and I saw stars and that was all I remembered.

When I woke up, I saw that my room had been ransacked and I was naked I got up from the floor and I hobbled to the bathroom and cried, cried, cried I saw the blood on my bed and on the floor. I turned on the shower and I laid down in the bath tub as I let the water run over my body and I cried; When I got out of the bathtub dried myself off, put my clothes on got my favorite backpack caught a cab to the airport called my Mom and Dad told them when my flight would be arriving. When my parents picked me up from the airport I ran right into my mother’s arms and told her this man had hurt me as I told my parents of the brutal attack on my persons my father was like most fathers became angry and wanted us to go back immediately from where I had come from and make out a police report.

I went into hysterics as I told my father absolutely not I cannot have strangers judge me and make me feel more shame then what I’m already feeling. I won’t do it, my father hugged me and said calm yourself daughter of mine, we will need the doctors to look at you will you at least do that for us. I said yes, our family doctor ran all manner of test on me and said that the results will be in soon. When the day came to share the results of the test I thought that my heart had skipped a beat when our family doctor had stated that I was HIV positive. I wanted to die right then and there. I thought why God? Why? As I finished with my story of shame there was not a dry eye in the house, and everyone that was in the room came to give me a hug. The women who had shared their stories earlier had stated that was a very brave thing that I had done by sharing my story I had gained my inner peace the burden of carrying that secret within me had been lifted and my spirit was free once more.

I thought in that moment, “so this is peace the quiet tranquility this peace of mind that I have been missing why had I been so afraid?” When the Director of the program invited me to share my story with others, I said ok but not really understanding by sharing my story just as these women had done prior to me, I have found peace that is a result of retaining my mind to process life as it is, rather than as I think it should be. I think John Lennon said it best when he stated “Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are and something you give away”.

In that group hug, I foundpeace within myself by sharing my stories in the hopes to let others know that they are not alone, they have the right to live and pursue their dreams and they do not have to live in shame or the agony of loneliness. The prescription I use to give myself such peace of mind for a purposeful living is:

P I plan and brainstorm

E I educate and gather information about HIV that will keep me healthy

A I take action through prayer

C I create and develop my ideas or complete my plan

E I evaluate and celebrate life and reward myself for a job well done!

 

 

When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others. Yes, my dear friends, I did forgive my attacker for the vile attack he placed upon me. My peace begins with a smile, my acceptance of what is, brings peace and I create a daily anchor that cultivates peace.

 

Ms. Edith

HIV and Nutrition: Tips for Better Health and Wellness

I took interest in nutrition and fitness in high school, and it’s a passion of mine that has changed my life for the better in many ways. It’s helped me recover from alcoholism, treat my depression, and heal childhood trauma. By the Grace of God today, I live a sober, active, healthful life of which nutrition is a vital element.      

Sound nutrition is essential to keeping the body functioning at its optimal level, and this is especially important if you’re living with HIV. It can be difficult to distinguish which choices are better than others when it comes to food, but hopefully some of the information in this blog can help make your meal-time decisions easier!

There are two types of nutrients in the world of food: Macro-Nutrients and Micro-Nutrients. The three Macro-Nutrients are Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat. Macro-Nutrients provide calories, our body’s energy source. The two Micro-Nutrients are Vitamins and Minerals; these enable key functions and aspects of the body such as: immune system, bone-density, sleep patterns, and nutrient absorption.

Below are some easy ways to fulfill your body’s requirements for both Macro and Micro-Nutrients:

  • Eat a diet rich in leafy green vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
  •  Choose lean, low-fat sources of Protein (Egg-whites, Chicken, White fish), complex Carbohydrates (Whole grains, Sweet potatoes, Brown rice), and clean Fats (Olive oil, Coconut oil, Natural peanut butter)
  • Limit foods and drinks high in artificial, processed sugars (Soda, Candy)
  • Make sure all meals and snacks include some Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat (Macro-Nutrients) as this helps the nutrients you eat to absorb.

Here are some guidelines for Caloric Intake when living with HIV:

  • Eat 17 Calories per pound of body weight if you’ve been maintaining your weight.
  • Eat 20 Calories per pound of body weight if you have an Opportunistic Infection.
  • Eat 25 Calories per pound of body weight if you’re losing weight.

We hope these nutrition basics help you live a fuller, healthier, more energized life, and God bless!

(All information for this blog was acquired through WebMD.com)

By Sam LaMantia

Oakland University student and a team member at Gospel Against AIDS

Caregiver Series: Unplanned Caregiver

*To close out our Caregiver series, we have an honest and beautiful account of how care giving can be unexpected yet rewarding.*

Often times we are confronted with unknown challenges that awaken another part of our life. When did we ever think we would be in the position that we are in on today?  Perhaps we never gave it thought…neither did I.

We are all made different and for a very good reason.  We season the places and people we come in contact with when we are fulfilling Gods purpose. However, sometimes days, months and years may go by and special things happen in our life that we think are not part of Gods plan but are necessary for what lies ahead.  I think of seeds and how they are planted deep in the soil. They go through many changes of darkness, watering, drought and are even broken before they begin to sprout and at times they’re even stepped on. But how awesome it is to step into a garden of flowers, a vineyard, and harvest of so many fruits and rejoice and marvel at its beauty. It is a breathtaking experience!! 

Well, my life took a turn many years ago when God gave me my youngest son, the third of three sons I have, and he is now 32 years old. This special son was born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is considered a neurological disorder caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child’s brain is under development. Cerebral palsy primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination. Though cerebral palsy can be defined, having cerebral palsy does not define the person that has the condition. Thus, a journey of caretaking began in a very intense way. This journey of caretaking is a path built on love.

Love is wonderful!  Just as Gods is love, knowing Him allows us to experience a flow of tenderness, warmth, strength, courage, perseverance, outlook, vision, hope and so many other marvelous feelings that at times could even be misunderstood. What’s amazing about love is that it just is.

We don’t program ourselves according to circumstances; we just step and do what needs to be done. It’s something that just flows from within in a genuine way and doesn’t stop to process its actions. One operates under a power that is greater than all things, with no regard of time, space, sacrifice, giving, and total rendering. It just happens, it just is and for that I am grateful!!  For me it’s about coming in contact with true love, the love of God. “For God SO loved the world…” John 3:16. I’d like to stop and just praise HIM…Could you stop while reading and lift your hands and praise HIM? Hallelujah God is awesome!!

It’s important that I share my love experience because it has molded me into the person that I am today although I didn’t plan to. I didn’t plan to be a caretaker for so long. I’ve been caring for my younger son living life with cerebral palsy for 32 years.  It’s been a rather interesting task. You see, it’s not just the care, but caring in a whole different way. It’s about understanding the health issues related to the condition,and it’s a rather difficult task because it requires education, research, interaction with a community and resources that have never been reached before. It’s living life in a whole different way. It’s becoming part of life in a new setting. It’s a rewarding experience that opens windows and scenes that forever change our lives. I must say it’s a good change and rewarding because it shows us the unknown and teaches us lessons of strength, courage, forgiveness, self worth, humbleness, and faith. During the early stages of my son’s life the doctors thought he wouldn’t survive. He was very ill with respiratory distress. He had been on ventilators on and off and practically lived at Lenox Hill hospital in New York, New York under the care of an excellent pediatrician, Dr. Joseph Licata. This physician is a tactful, loving, caring doctor. He exercised his profession with a true calling to serve, thereby, allowing his patients to feel at ease. My son, Hector, is alive today thanks to the love and dedication of loving professionals like Dr. Licata, and loving parents, family and friends that allowed God to use them as His vessel. Of course we all know that God is the healer and giver of life. But it’s awesome to find those that take part in HIS divine plan.

I was unable to continue work during the first 7 years of Hectors life. He was critically ill, so I had to resign from my job and dedicate myself to his care. It was very difficult raising my two other boys and caring for Hector, who in addition to being sick was also in a wheelchair. And of course let’s not forget taking care of my husband and home. But, surely I knew that I had to give my all to everyone, and I could do this out of my love for them. Love is a very powerful sentiment that flows in a very natural way. Force: it is not love; to want it is not enough. Yet to dream, it is just a dream. But to have love is unique because once again it just is. The beauty of love is that it’s born through the rendering of ones soul to the great I am: God. Love is magical; when one gives unto others of themselves it is the seed that brings a great harvest.

Hector’s health improved with our move to Florida 25 years ago, and I was able to return to work for some time. Hector attended high school and graduated. He even held two jobs, a very unique experience. No, it’s not a story of living happily ever after like fairy tales. Hector did finish school and transitioning has been difficult for both of us. Job search, education etc. is not what we envisioned. Once again, it’s a task that requires endurance. This is a journey of understanding the mind, body and needs of a disabled person in a real world. Hector and I are on a journey together to discover the gifts, talents, dreams and reality of all things that could help him contribute to a world with diverse needs. As Hector says and I quote, “I am in a wheelchair but my soul is standing! Many are standing physically but are sitting spiritually. I stand because I know I was called to motivate, inspire and impact lives that are in need.” Believe me he’s working on that and I am working hard to help him bring forth what’s in his mind and heart.

Wow, God is awesome!  and I can surely say that although I didn’t plan it, He did and has taught me a lot more of what love is.

So, what have I learned about love?

1.      It flows

2.      Bears all things

3.      Receives the unexpected

4.      Takes on challenges

5.      Waits in motion (doesn’t stop performing while waiting)

6.      Prepares the heart for the unknown

7.      Puts us in contact with Gods attributes

8.      Aligns our thoughts

9.      Gives us courage

10.  Impulses one to do better

11.  Takes us from the comfort zone

12.  Thrusts us to the unknown

13.  Embraces our differences

14.  Gives us a vision beyond reason

15.  It puts us in contact with self

16.  Makes us happy!!

 

So, this is part of my story. I hope it blesses your life and as I titled it, I didn’t plan to but guess what? HE did. And I am here living his love plan for me.

Jeremiah 29:11New International Version (NIV)

11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 

In HIS love and mine,

Angie Rivera

GAA Supporter and Volunteer

Caregiver Series: Through Her Eyes

Hello Family and Friends,

 

I am so excited to have been asked to write blogs for Gospel against Aids (GAA)  with this being my first I would like to give honor and thanks to God, GAA, my friends, and family for allowing me this opportunity of sharing information and inspiration, please enjoy this blog regarding caregiving.

 

      “Are you living or just existing?” This notable line from the movie The Family that Preys by Tyler Perry caregivers may feel this way at times because of the high levels of stress caring for another person can bring. Family caregiving is complex, confusing, complicated, and counter-intuitive. One size does not fit at all. We do not have a caregiving DNA and it is far from intuitive. Few go to school to learn how to be family caregivers. Therefore if it isn’t genetic intuitive or learned, it should come as no surprise that family caregivers “don’t know what they don’t know”.  For example my dad was diagnosed with having dementia before we relocated to Arizona from Michigan, however he never told us about this diagnosis.

     Did we suspect there might be some memory issues yes, so what we did would be to leave various notes for him throughout the house in strategic places to assist with some memory lapses. While he did appreciate this attempt, however his pride would not allow him to accept this type of help he state it made him appear weak since he was after all the man and the head of our family. We tried different techniques that would not give the appearance to his lack of memory.  My mother became that keeper of assisting my father with his lack of memory; and seeing the many changes of his personality.

     Did you know that the term caregiver did not become known until 1966; there are many synonyms to this word such as carer, caretaker, and guardian. Caregivers often do not get adequate personal time, it is important for caregivers to take care of themselves both physically and emotionally. Taking time for yourself is not selfish but helps to improve your capacity of care for your love one. Looking back on this thought I wish I had taken my mother out more, however on the few times that I was able to get her to go out she felt a sense of selfishness on her part for not being there for my dad. Caregivers may not ask for the help they need to provide care for their loved ones and to take care of themselves.

     When I suggested to my mom that we could join a support group so that we could learn more about this disease and how we could be more affective in our approach to help my dad with his memory lapses. My mother stated that she did not wish to join a support group in her local area because she didn’t want any of her neighbors to know about dad’s illness, she did however, go online to WebMD to ask questions about the disease and suggestion on how to care for someone with this illness. She felt that love was the best support of all even when my father would yell at her or call her names for no apparent reason, mother would remind me of first Peter chapter 4 verse 8 which read like this “above all things, have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sin”.

     Many caregivers expect their involvement to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the person. This statement brings to mind a time when I offered to drive my parents out of town to handle some business affairs my father was reluctant to accept my help but relented and allowed me to drive them out of town. As we began our journey to Mississippi we stopped at a rest area in Texas where my father insisted that he would drive, I reluctantly gave him the keys as he began to drive his speed was very sporadic as dark began to settle in my dad’s vision at night became slightly impaired, he became agitated because he could not read the signs as to which direction we needed to go when I offered as to which direction he needed to go or if he wanted me to drive these offers were met with resentment and hostility which made me shut down and not say anything else. I allowed my father to go around in circles for about 15 minutesuntil my mother asked me to please tell her which direction they needed to go which I did and my father listen to my mother recite what I had said previously.

     Caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect their own emotional, physical, and spiritual health. The demands on a caregiver's body, mind, and emotions can easily seem overwhelming, leading to fatigue and hopelessness -- and, ultimately, burnout. My father drove all night to our destination exhausted but proud that he had driven there, my mother and I physically and emotionally drained from the ride because of the near misses on the highway of other vehicles we each silently thanked God for our arrival, and set a plan to speak with the family members there to talk with my dad to allow us to take turns on driving on the return home.

Rosalyn Carter, former First Lady, said, "There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who need caregivers. As I reflected on this quote from the former First Lady, I felt that if we had a better understanding of dementia we could have probably been better prepared as to how we could best assist my dad through this disease. I believe by understanding, planning, and acceptance families who are caregivers need to research resources that can offer the best help through the process. We lost my father in October 31st of last year in a car accident all because we didn’t want him to lose his independence by taking the keys from him.  

 

The lessons I have learned regarding this period caring for my parents was the frustration and isolation I felt often times alone, and that no one would understand the amount of stress and pressure I was under for my mother to understand and accept that my father was not getting better but he was almost to the point that she would not be able to handle him. Frustration is a normal and valid emotional response to many of the difficulties of being a caregiver. While some irritation may be part of everyday life as a caregiver, feeling extreme frustration can have serious consequences for you or the person. As a caregiver of someone with dementia, you face many uncontrollable situations.  Behaviors often associated with dementia, like wandering or asking questions repeatedly, can be frustrating for caregivers but are uncontrollable behaviors for people with dementia.  I have also learned that I cannot take on all the responsibility for the care of my parents; I should have had my children involved and told my sister’s more of what was going on here. I also have learned some of the warning signs of frustration that I would like to share.

  • shortness of breath
  • knot in the throat
  • stomach cramps
  • chest pains
  • headache
  • compulsive eating

Knowledge is powerful! Seek the knowledge! Use the knowledge! Learn from the knowledge!  I certainly have. Here are a listing of resources that I hope will be of assistance. Until next time!

·         Caregiver SOS

·         1-866-390-6491

·         Website: http://caregiversos.org/

·         Eldercare Locator

·         National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

·         800-677-1116

·         Website: http://www.n4a.org -or- http://www.eldercare.gov

·         AARP

·         800-424-3410

·         Website: http://www.aarp.org

·         Aging with Dignity

·         888-5-WISHES (594-7437)

·         Website: http://www.agingwithdignity.org

·         Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Center

·         800-227-7294

·         Website: http://www.alz.org/care 

·         Caregiver.com

·         800-829-2734

·         Website: http://www.caregiver.com

 

Ms. Ed'ee

Caregiver Series: The Chosen Ones

 

 

You have been “chosen for a special assignment” when you are a caregiver. You might be thinking what is so special when your days are filled with changing the diapers of a parent, spouse or other loved one; washing soiled laundry, making sure the catheter is inserted properly and cleaning around it to make sure no infection develops, counting meds, cleaning bed pans, rubbing a weary head as one more meal could not be tolerated, watching monitors, realizing that the doctors didn’t tell you “all that you should expect,” making sure the stops are on the wheel chair, especially after that last incident; and on, and on, and on.., Caregiving can be a thankless task. You might be in this position because no other family member could or would undertake it. And they promised to be there to help, but we know at the end of the day that the responsibility falls on, you. Chosen for what, heartache? There is nothing pretty about watching someone that you love going through.

 

Some of us are caregiving for more than one person at the same time.  Just you and your loved one and life sustaining tasks that have to be done every day at the same time seven days a week.  How many ambulance rides have you been on? How many ERs have you visited sometimes twice in one day?  Sleep becomes a luxury. Because you are listening: listening to make sure that the machines are working, that his/her breathing is steady. Will she pull the tube out again?  Will the bed soars ever go away?

 

And then there are the visitors. Mostly family who come over expecting; expecting food, expecting to be entertained, expecting an update, or to appease their guilt; to judge; to criticize, etc.  But what are they “bringing?” A kind word, some support, a paper plate? Nope sometimes they bring the last thing that you need, drama.  Guilt and fear take on all sorts of forms when people are in denial. And there you are while they are acting out, showing their natural behind, there you are being “calm.”  Not because you are going to be canonized over the doors of Westminister, but because you have to be.  Your loved one’s life depends on you. Your every reaction has a direct effect on them.  And then they are gone and there you are, more exhausted than ever.

 

Somebody had the audacity to say “…you’re looking kind of tired are you sleeping?” “.., looks like someone hasn’t been to the gym in a while,” “…when is the last time you had a mani-pedi?” “..you have got to take care of yourself first.”  You’re kidding right?  No I can tell you what “I have to do.” I “have to” check his colonoscopy bag to make sure there is no blood in his urine.  I “have to” give her, her injections.  I “have to” change his bandages to make sure that no infection develops. I “have to” make sure that he is still sitting up so he doesn’t choke on his own tongue. These are just a few of the things that “have to be done.” No debating, no contemplation, no arguing. I will eat when I have time, whatever I can find.  There is no “me” in “you.” And that’s just how it is.

 

We are on call 24/7 no such thing as making time for oneself. If we could “make time,” we would, or shall I say, I would make time that would allow my loved one to be whole again. That’s the kind of time I would make. Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t graduated to sainthood. I still have enough “world” in me where, yes I would love to pamper myself “all the time,” or have someone pamper me. I do what I can, when I can for me.  There is no “me” in “you.”  By the way, “I love you.” Contrary to how this piece started, much of the upcoming pages will be filled with talking about the beauty of caregiving, the relationship that can flourish between the caregiver and the loved one. I have seen first-hand, how years of lost conversations, of sharing, can be healed in one day, simply by love.

 

You have been hearing about some of the situations that I and some of myfriends have found ourselves in during a “critical” care season.  Yes, there are “ seasons” in caregiving that demand more or require less. You will be hearing about some of them.

 

We are going to go through this together. I cannot emphasize this enough, your words are important. What you have to share matters. Let us hear from you. Send us a submission.

 

Back to my title, yes, we are among the “chosen ones.” During this journey we will come to understand the depth of unconditional love.  This is not a “comfortable” love but one that requires more than is humanly possible, that’s why I have found that I must stand on the word of God.

 

In this love, like all healthy relationships you must create and maintain boundaries. Boundaries that at times, no one will want you to have because it’s not convenient for them I have found that I had to have a consistent prayer life to even know where lines needed to be drawn to divide acceptable from unacceptable behavior from those surrounding me. These two elements are crucial if you are going to make it through without being consumed by hurt, bitterness, and anger.

 

Christ is the foundation on which every area of my life is built.  I will be talking about this truth throughout.

 

You have been chosen to fulfill this life’s highest calling, to be a vehicle of God’s unconditional love. Know that you are not alone.

 

Believe it or not, you have been prepared for such a time as this.

 

You would not be reading these words if I did not have a circle of powerful queen sisters and kings who are the salt of the Earth. They are godly women and men. They are examples of the best of God’s craftsmanship on this plain.  They know how to “circle the wagons” when needed.

 

Do you know how much you need friends who know how to “circle the wagons?”

 

Do you have any 2am friends? These are people that you can call at 2am to say help, or just to hear another voice.

 

Do you know how to let your patient/loved one see where they are in their health? Are you willing to let your loved one “fall” so that they can see that they are unable to walk?  That’s a tough one because after seeing them sick for so long our emotions can be governed by fear. And sometimes fear is not helpful to anyone. 

 

The next story you will read will be how one person, in the face of her fear, let her loved one “see” where they were even when it meant putting herself in harm’s way.

 

 God is great and this is His assignment, I am excited to see what He is going to do in and through us. Aren’t you?

 

 Executive Director Rosalind Worthy

Caregiver Series: The Voice of Family Members Caring For Loved Ones

 

 

“For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord,

thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

                                                                                                                                Jeremiah 29:11(KJV)

 

It is hard to image this statement to be true when you are living in the throes of caregiving for a critically ill loved one.  Where is the peace?  And is the expected end a good one? I will venture to say, yes it is.

 

In recent months I have observed a growing number of my dearest friends thrust into the unexpected role of caregiver.  Contrary to common belief caregiving and their patient/loved one is not restricted to age.  Some of the caregivers and their patient/loved one that I have recently met are as young as 30 yrs. and as seasoned as 90 yrs. Because of my work in HIV, you would assume that I am referring to caregivers to HIV patients. While you will be reading contributions from and for this group, the caregivers that I have been encountering are caring for patients challenged with everything from Cerebral Palsy, to various and/or rare forms of Cancers, Dementia, Alzheimer’s , hear t disease, HIV and sometimes a combination of the above.  The list is endless.

 

Apart from the enormity of caregiving, the caregivers themselves are dealing with their own health challenges.  Some are HIV positive, some have Diabetes, Heart Disease, Cancer, etc., Their aliments are sometimes as lengthy as the patient.  Now add to this, more than one patient. The image is:  two patients, children, parents, a spouse etc. We won’t even touch on the financial obligations with or without insurance. 

 

With stressor upon stressor, it is little wonder that statistically, increasing numbers of patients are out living their caregiver. With little to no time to themselves, caregivers find they have little to no time to cultivate or maintain friendships or build and maintain a spiritual foundation. Both are fundamental to their emotional health and wellbeing. We need one another during these seasons of caregiving.

 

Because of this need, this is the first of a series of monthly and sometimes bi-monthly submissions dedicated to caregivers.  In these writings, we will share our joys, hurts, anger, fears, frustrations, and peace during this process of caregiving. In this “no judgement zone,” I invite you to lift one another up in prayer, share one another’s burdens, agree or disagree in love, and ultimately find peace albeit perhaps momentarily, in this God assigned role.  Yes it is God assigned and you know He doesn’t assign us anything that He is not fully present in.  More about that later, but now just read these words and see if any of this applies to you. As you read this and other writings know that we need to hear from you. I am only one small voice, but you are many with a plethora of experiences that we can all benefit from. 

 

 

Executive Director Rosalind Worthy

Testimony Tuesday: My Journey to GAA

My name is Rosanna Ramos. I was born and raised in Southwest Detroit, and I’m the youngest of four siblings. In our home we never spoke about God much less Jesus. Our single mother jumped in and out of many relationships looking for love in all the wrong places which left us kids pretty much neglected and to fend for ourselves. I would later turn to drugs, alcohol and gangs to fulfil my void.

When that didn't work I turned to sex, losing my virginity at 19 to a man who was living with AIDS, but never disclosed his status to me until after we had weeks of unprotected sex. Even after learning his status, I chose to continue to have unprotected sex for four months, presuming I was infected and that I was going to die anyway.

We chose to elope to prevent family and friends from finding out this devastating truth.The night before we were to leave, I had a dream that God spoke to me telling me to tell my boyfriend that I was not going with him.  At that time I didn’t know God could talk to me or even that He knew who I was. But I did do as He asked.  My boyfriend left and I stayed.

When I went to get my test results, to my surprise, they were negative. That was in 1997 andthey continue to be negative to this day. That was 23 years ago! I met up with GAA in 2004 and always wanted to help others who might have a reactive HIV test, to give them hope that God is still in the miracle working business and this is not a death sentence but a test for their testimony. There's nothing impossible for God. I pray as I'm out in the field, and I do have to give the news of a reactive test that God will send the Comforter through me, so they are encouraged to get help and make a difference. 

 

Blessings and breakthrough! 

 

Rosanna Ramos

GAA HIV Test Counselor and Outreach volunteer

Testimony Tuesday: Empowering the Marginalized

I came to the United States with a half-empty suitcase, one hundred and eleven dollars, and a stubborn determination to get an education. One afternoon back in Colombia, my mother had told me that the only thing she could do to give me the education that I wanted was to send me away. She said, “You are going to struggle a lot and the odds of failure are high, but at least you’ll have a chance.” One of the strongest memories I have of Colombia is the feeling of hopelessness and fear. The combination of fragmented capitalists expansion, endemic social exclusion, and political corruption generated an endless civil war that left the country in a state constant economic, social, and political crisis. Colombia was also a place plagued by pervasive homophobia. Stories of gay men being sodomized and lynched by policemen in the outskirts of cities were common and terrifying.

When I first came to the United States, I alternated jobs at jewelry factories with temporary work as kitchen help for college cafeterias across Rhode Island. It was as a kitchen boy that I had my first contact with Brown University. I remember the first days of school when students returned to Brown at the end of the summer. I kept running back and forth from the dining area to the kitchen at the bottom of the main dining hall, “the Ratty,” carrying trays full of leftovers. Brown was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, a combination of solid red bricks and pure dream. It was a dream way out of the reach of a young Hispanic immigrant struggling to survive on his own.

Six years later, I find myself at the same dining hall where I first worked at Brown. I am having breakfast with my mother on commencement day, and I am part of the 2005 graduating class at Brown University. The journey from kitchen boy to Brown graduate is a story of endless hours of hard work, the courage to follow my dreams, and the discoveries I made through the journey. The most important of these discoveries has been my commitment to the empowerment of those affected by social exclusion and inequality. 

My journey to Brown was not an easy one. By the end of my senior year at Central Falls High School, I had been accepted at the Rhode Island School of Design, a dream for most of the students in the Art-Portfolio class. At Central Falls, college was only another unattainable dream, another source of frustration one would joke about to get through the day. That year, I was not offered a scholarship to attend RISD, and I decided to enroll at a public art school in Boston, the Massachusetts College of Art. There, I focused all my energy on strengthening my portfolio to reapply to RISD, and by the end of the spring semester I had been accepted with a full scholarship. After my first year at RISD, I needed a summer job and I took one as a counselor for Steppingstone Summer Camp. I never imagined camp was going to change my life forever. 

Camp Steppingstone provided a safe environment for children between the ages of five and fourteen years old who had been affected by AIDS and HIV. Our campers were mostly American ethnic minorities, children of low-income families. Some of them had already lost their parents to AIDS, or they were severely ill themselves. Anger, isolation, and pain often dominated their emotions, but these feelings did not entirely consume their tenderness and ability to enjoy life. By the end of the summer, I felt frustrated by my inability to change the lives of my campers and confused about my priorities in life. I had always believed that HIV did not discriminate. Yet, my experiences at camp showed a strong correlation between the HIV infection and the socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity of the individuals infected. Even within the same minority group, it seemed that HIV was always selecting its victims among the most vulnerable and disenfranchised individuals, such as single mothers.

By the end of camp, I had questions that RISD’s art curriculum could not answer, so I cross-registered for three academic courses at Brown while continuing my artistic training. Through my classes, I did research on welfare states in developed nations, immigrants’ cultural and economic assimilation, and the deterioration of democracy in Colombia. By the end of the semester, I decided to transfer to Brown as a full-time student to pursue research on racial discrimination, social exclusion, and inequality and their impact on health and education outcomes among inner city youth.

After years of work in HIV and AIDS, I have come to understand HIV as a virus that thrives in communities where people have been disempowered at the social, emotional, and political level. As a sexually transmitted infection, HIV becomes the physical manifestation of social forces that exist beyond the physical body, but which are embodied in the physical experience of living with potentially deadly infection. Stigma and isolation fuel HIV as much as substance abuse and trauma. Among gay men, HIV infection is enmeshed with homophobia, which in its essence is an experience of violence. Among women and men who survive sexual abuse, HIV infection is often the manifestation of violence itself, trapped within the body and the experience of traumatization. In this context, testing becomes the first essential step to break the cycle, to identify the infection, to face one’s own vulnerability, and muster the courage to live.

 

 

Francisco Cabas

GAA Contributor

Relationship or Religion: A Reflection on the Easter Season

                “…and the greatest of these is love.”

 

This is a sacred time of year to me, the passion season. Years ago my life changed forever after having learned the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday.  I quickly discarded most of what and how I had been taught to celebrate “Easter.”  First and foremost among the many things that I had to unlearn, was that “Easter” was a derivative of a pagan name for a deity. There is no mention of Jesus associated with Easter in the Bible.

 

Looking back at my childhood, apart from the candy, I was developing a growing dislike for Easter at a young age. We had to go to church. We had to participate in a play or dance performance. Easter Sunday always meant a new dress full of frills and lace (yuk), a bonnet or ribbons, lace trimmed anklets (double yuk), patient leather shoes, white gloves (yes white gloves, I know that I am dating myself), and a new “pocketbook” (a “ purse” for you youngsters). It meant smelling Dixie peach and burning hair. It meant hearing the sizzle of the hot comb over my ears and keeping the butter on the table in preparation for the evitable burn. Then hearing the frustration in my mother’s voice when my hair just wouldn’t cooperate and do the perfect Shirley Temple curl. 

 

With time, I realized just how blessed we were. My mother, who was widowed, was able single handedly to do this every year for three girls, a true testament to the grace and glory of God. I was to learn later that many children did not have the things that I complained about.  We dyed eggs, made Easter baskets, and ate jelly beans and chocolate. We feasted on Honeybaked ham and macaroni and cheese among other things. All of this and more were part of our celebration of Easter. Who could imagine back then, not having a new Easter outfit to wear to church?

 

This week I found myself doing what I never thought I would do. I was buying jelly beans, Easter baskets, dyeing eggs and helping to decorate a room in Easter splendor. What happened? What happened to my board line self-righteousness looking at those who still regarded Resurrection Sunday as Easter with a bit of pity? Love is what happened. A relationship is what happened.

 

I have been blessed and honored to meet, befriend, and become adopted by the mother of a dear friend, Engracia (Grace) Rodriguez. Mother Grace is 86 years young. She is a queen. Living here for more than a few decades, she has endured what would break the spirit of a lesser woman. She survived life in a patriarchal society and later thrived both in Puerto Rico then in the US after her husband’s death.  She speaks no English but always manages to get her point across. Impeccably groomed, her mannerisms and warm spirit can only be described as “elegant.”

 

She is a beautiful woman of God whose love is infectious. A little more than a month ago, she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. She told us that she already knew something was

 

wrong before the biopsy. As she prepares for surgery and chemo this week, she stated how much she missed “home” and how she use to decorate her home for Easter.

 

That was all I needed.  While I had never done this before, I remembered everything that my mother used to do for us and I along with her daughter, who thankfully is a lot more creative than I am, went to work. We bought chocolate bunnies, Easter baskets, jelly beans, marshmallow chicks, and rabbit ears which we wore while dyeing eggs and listening to tropical sambas. Mother Grace was stirring pots that all smelled wonderful and I loved every minute of it.

 

How uncertain our tomorrows are, does relationship have to be sacrificed for religion? For me, the answer is absolutely not. If I can help to bring joy to this courageous “queen mother” at a challenging time in her life, I am there. Not once did I think about Easter versus Resurrection, terminology verses theology, tradition verses iconoclasm. I was driven by love which should be what undergirds everything.  “….and the greatest of these is love.”  For the entire day, Mother Grace was surrounded by her daughter and son, surrounded by grandchildren and great grandchildren, friends and extended family, Easter decorations and flowers, pots of food with heaping mounds of love.

 

My prayer to you during this passion season is that somewhere in your encounters that you experience the “love of grace” that you are freed from and not live behind barriers of extremes.

 

Rosalind Worthy

Executive Director

Gospel Against AIDS

Testimony Tuesday: Celebrate Life

 Friends, I believe that God does not place a desire in someone's heart for it 
to be ignored. God has called a very special organization and it's founder 
Rosalind Worthy to raise awareness on a topic that to some people may be 
sensitive but necessary. I stand in agreement with Gospel Against AIDS and their 
efforts as they bless the body of Jesus Christ, and the community. The 
Bible says the people perish because of the lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6a). This 
is the reason that this organization has a mandate & has received specific 
instructions to teach others regarding the HIV and AIDS. 

In 1991 mom lost her youngest brother, my uncle, William Rivera, at the early 
age of 33 to this disease. My uncle lived in New York most of his life. He was 
an awesome man. He was a painting and drawing artist, he played basketball, 
weight lifted and just enjoyed sports and fitness. My uncle made decisions that 
forever changed and marked his life. Many times we didn't know where he was and 
a lot of his life is unknown to the family. When he came back to the family a 
short while later he was diagnosed with AIDS. He later moved to Puerto Rico and 
had the opportunity to play basketball for a Guayama, Puerto Rico team. He was 
also a comedian, had many friends and he lived life as if there was no tomorrow. 
He stayed in Puerto Rico and was treated there and went to be with The Lord in 
1991. This hurt all of our family, especially when many friends and family 
didn't want to come in contact with him. Amazingly, many chose not to attend the 
funeral for fear of contamination. So you see that's why I say awareness and 
instruction is important. 

Some may not be able to relate to this, but the reality is that HIV/AIDS is a part 
of our daily lives, and we all must confront the truth at some point.If we don't 
know what's taking place around HIV AIDS how will we be able to contribute to making it 
better? By raising awareness through GAA, the people will be informed and able to make life 
changing decisions. Our age does not disqualify us from being diagnosed with 
this disease. Friends, when we receive good news from someone we love dearly we 
get happy but sadly, when we get news regarding this matter we find ourselves 
incarcerated and lots of times angry at God because a friend or a love onehas 
been diagnosed with AIDS. There are lots of things that we are able todo to 
help the organization, Gospel Against AIDS. For instance sharing a testimony, 
opening doors at churches and community centers for them to share the 
information, financial assistance, sharing our gifts and talents etc. Silence
must be broken and awareness must be raised as we come together to make an 
impact. 

Friends,when I was born I had an extensive medical history due to my diagnosis 
of cerebral palsybut my mom has shared with me, and she said that in spite of all 
that I was going through I always had a smile on my face. My dad has a song that 
says, "Praise The Lord in the good and when it gets worse praise Him too". Oh how 
good it is to know that negative news allows us to perform some of the best 
pieces of art some of the best piecesof music! It's those memories that 
remain in our hearts & minds forever. It's sad to know that at timeswe are 
more recognized when we are in the last days of our life or even gone. 

Today, I would like to encourage everyone by saying what I always say and that 
is, to celebrate life. Look to do all that you can do in lifebecause that is 
when the best chapters are written. The best contribution that we are able to 
give someoneis that we celebrate their life every way we possibly can when 
they are able to see it. You have been gifted to be a gift to someone that needs 
it. Tomorrow very well may be too late, so with this I say take a moment of 
reflection and celebrate The Lord and all that he has placed in you and through 
you.It's never too late to inspire and make an impact in someone's life by 
contributing in any way, shape or form. Although a person may no longer be 
with us, we can honor them, and pass on our experience and keep their flame 
alive by doing things similar to what Mrs. Worthy and team are doing. 
I pray you may be blessed with our story. And may The Lord richly bless this 
organization 

Hector L. Rosario

Testimony Tuesday: The Impact of GAA on Youth

“The power of one voice” was iterated nearly every time I encountered Aunt Ros – Gospel Against AIDS’s founder and executive director, Rosalind Andrews-Worthy. These words constantly reverberated in my head from my first days as an 8th grader being newly introduced to the intricacies of HIV/AIDS, to my high school years as program manager of GAA’s youth group – YAAHWAY (You Abstaining According to His WAY). During that period, and extending into my undergraduate years at the University of Michigan, I would not only become knowledgeable of the science, prevention, treatment, and lived experience of having the virus and syndrome, but would use my voice to educate my peers – and adults – on this knowledge, encouraging them to remain abstinent from sex, among other prevention methods, until they felt ready and mature enough before God or their partner(s). Through my leadership of our intimate 5-person team, we crafted and presented curriculum, skits, speeches, and even a monthly radio and television broadcast (WHPR Detroit) to reach upwards of 1,000 people per year.

It was rather formidable for such leadership at a young age, and using my voice for public good was no easy task. As a natural introvert and someone who often felt insecure with my identity, speaking to congregations on such a heavy topic to over 500 people down to rooms with just 5 of my peers often terrified me. Yet, I realized that my greatest fear was neither the large crowds nor my “not fitting in” with my peers by taking such a mature and unpopular stance with this issue. My greatest fear was my immense potential – to delve into a subject of such gravity, and boldly follow a path of knowledge, understanding, leadership, love, and justice. It was my daring to align myself with a cause greater than myself that evoked fear – my will to follow what felt right in my heart though at times could not be fully conceptualized mentally.

Through HIV/AIDS-prevention education, my trajectory with GAA allowed me to find my passion for social justice in urban spaces, and to elevate my voice and my awareness to will such justice into being. This work of organizing and public service leadership solidified my affinity for community education and empowerment to enhance the quality of life for the marginalized. This passion drove me to volunteer with grassroots activists at under-resourced schools and orphanages throughout Vietnam following my freshman year of college, where we helped to update school resources and establish a new community library in a small rural village. It then inspired me to partake in a 3-semester experience in my junior year known as the Pedagogy of Action (POA). Under the tutelage of U of M’s Dr. Nesha Haniff, I was one of 12 POA students who took coursework examining the dynamics of power, oppression, and community empowerment through the lens of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its global responses; learned a completely oral HIV/AIDS-awareness and –prevention module designed for low-literate communities, which we practiced first in Detroit public schools; and then taught this same module to 15 different primary schools, universities, research institutions, and community groups throughout a 5-week journey in South Africa.

My thirst for service across the globe was yet to be satiated in my college tenure, as I most recently embarked on a 5-week human rights fellowship in Europe. In the Humanity in Action program, I explored diplomacy and issues of past and present discrimination in Europe, while primarily crafting a social media campaign against hate speech in Poland that engaged over 2,000 Polish citizens in 1 week.

Whether I am partaking in global service, chanting “Black lives matter!” in a street protest against modern-day police brutality, or spearheading interagency community support initiatives in my current role as a project manager in the Mayor’s Office in New York City, I know that my guiding force of love is rooted in Detroit, in my upbringing in the church, and in Gospel Against AIDS. It was in these nurturing spaces where I discovered that my young voice was powerful beyond measure. With my current sights set on a return to Detroit following graduate studies in policy and business to focus on equitable economic development, I do not falter from what was instilled in me as a young leader in GAA: that justice is simply love out loud, and love is an action that seeks to use our voices and energy – no matter our background, age, or package – to trump ignorance and fear, and connect and empower us all.

Here’s to fighting the good fight and always waging love through the power of our collective voice.

 

Michael Williams
Project Manager, NYC Service Fellow 

NYC Service | Office of the Mayor

Former Gospel Against AIDS Program Manager for YAAHWAY

GAA's Returning Citizens Outreach Team -Mound Correctional Facility

Let’s Talk

My name is Jawan Hayes prison number 426663. I am 33 years old and I have been incarcerated for 13 years now. I was never fully educated on the epidemic of HIV/AIDS. During my time in high school, I had sex education class; however, it was a very simple class and did not go into much detail. Actually, the only time I heard the conversation of HIV/AIDS was when someone was referring to Magic Johnson. Growing up in a single parent home with my mom, it was embarrassing at that time to go to my mother and talk about sex.  Also, growing up in the church, there weren’t any classes being taught about safe sex or sex in general.

The summer of 2006 is when I met Mrs. Rosalind Worthy and Paula Sirls. I was serving as the vice chairman of the NAACP. When the seminar that Gospel Against AIDS was discussed, I thought it was going to be a gospel concert. When they began the workshop, they passed out a questionnaire about HIV and I found that I was very uninformed and that was embarrassing. I listened closely to the workshop, took notes, and paid close attention because I remembered that when I entered the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC)they test for HIV. And even though I was negative I was still nervous listening to them break down the facts of HIV because I was very promiscuous in the past. During the time of Q&A, the first question I asked was what is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

What I learned was that HIV is a virus that infects cells in your body. When you immune system becomes so damaged that you get certain serious infections or your CD4 count falls below 200 then you are said to have an AIDS diagnosis. Everyone with AIDS is infected with the HIV virus, but not everyone with HIV has AIDS. The training session was very enriching and empowering. Little did I know that my journey with GAA had begun.

I expressed to Mrs. Worthy that I wanted to be involved with GAA and do more to help. So we started AIDS 101 classes at Mound Correctional Facility. We educated prisoners and we had a huge waiting list as the class filled up quickly. Mrs. Worthy invited me to join the GAA board. I like this and I love teaching and this is something that needs to be taught in schools, churches, and more prisons.

When I educate prisoners on preventive measures, I start our conversation off with the same question posed to me when I was educated. I ask them what they know about HIV. The information is so vital and the facts are not being spread like it should. This is why I love Gospel Against AIDS! They spread the information fast and nation wide. They go to churches, schools, and prisons. The facts are not sugar coated with these women.

When people talk about HIV and prison, people automatically thing bout prisoners being sexually active with each other, which does happen, but there are so many other possible risk factors for HIV in the prison, such as the prison barber shop or tattoos. If the barber does not sterilize his tools properly then there is a risk of transmission. Who would ever thought that it would be possible to contract the virus through just getting properly groomed?  Furthermore there is a high risk with tattoos. While I don’t have one, almost every prisoner has one. Prisoners love them because it is an opportunity to express themselves and the art has a story to tell.  Again, if the tools are used and not cleaned there is risk involved. HIV is not the only disease, but these are risk factors for Hepatitis C too, and many people participating in these activities are not conscious of the risks.

GAA has given me the opportunity to educate and possibly save someone’s life by educating people on HIV. While teaching and learning from the young people I have discovered that they learn from the streets. I’m not able to go out into the streets to educate t hem so I work hard to educate the ones who are going back to the community. I hope and pray they would share this information with others. Each one teach one, and this epidemic will slowly decrease.

In June of 2010, during National HIV testing Month, we initiated a call to get tested at the Mound Correctional Facility and the outcome was outstanding! Most of the population was tested and the correctional and health care staffs were supportive of the cause. For the first time ever there was widespread testing in MDOC. This was a result of the amazing work of GAA.

Sometimes I’m transferred to a different facility  and whenever I go to a new place, I try to get a class on HIV/AIDS started there. Many question why or what is the purpose? My response is there is a need. The prison population is 75% with younger prisoners who has had multiple partners or using drugs before their incarceration and they have never been tested or educated. Then there are those who have been tested but don’t know anything about the test or how to understand or read the results. Educating about HIV/AIDS in the prisons is so important. This is why I do what I do.

Thank you for taking the time to read my words. I hope and pray that I may have sparked a light in you to join the fight against HIV/AIDS.

May God bless you and your family,

Jawan Hayes

Fighting the Battle of HIV/AIDS on your knees

“Fight all your battles on your knees..,”

                                    Dr. Charles Stanley

 

My earliest memories of “being on my knees” was during my prayers at bedtime with my mother by my side we would say together, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord y soul to take.” Even though she tried to explain them to me, I couldn’t really grasp what the words meant. I just knew it was something that I was taught to do. Now I am so thankful to her for showing me how to tap into my life source.

 

The first time I saw a group of people “on their knees” was during the 67 riots. Several people had been herded out of the Lee Plaza Hotel at gun point. Some wrapped in sheets or towels, some bare foot, others with robes and night gowns, while others looked like they grabbed whatever they could to cover themselves. They were told to face the wall and get down on their knees by men in army fatigues. One man stated that they were looking for a sniper that had run into the hotel and they were sure that someone in that line knew where this person was. Watching this from our front porch, it filled me with fear and curiosity especially once I saw the tanks rolling down our street. The next thing I knew, my grandmother had pulled me inside, flung me to the floor and told me to stay there until I was told otherwise. Some days later when we were allowed to go outside to play I remember counting the holes in the side of our house, they were bullet holes.

 

Two decades later I was to see another group of people on their knees in Beirut, Lebanon. This time they were all men at least 20 on the side of the road, men in army fatigues were shouting at them. The streets were lined with sand bags and once again tanks were rolling down the main thorough fare. It reminded me of being in Detroit.

 

The next time I saw a group on their knees before I joined the church was in Izmir, Turkey. We were in the middle of an earthquake. It had struck quickly. We did not have time to take cover, so we were told to get as close to the floor as possible.

 

And lastly, a friend of mine was describing being robbed and car jacked. She talked about the fear that paralyzed her until her assailant told her to “get on her knees.” “Girl he didn’t have to tell me twice, it was the best thing he could have asked me to do.” He fled and she wasn’t harmed.

 

In a world of violence and conflict, to be on one’s knees is regarding as demeaning, a sign of defeat and surrender. It is a position that says that the circumstances or situation that we find ourselves in is beyond our control.

 

For me, being on my knees is a position of strength. I have found that starting and ending my days on my knees is the most powerful thing that I can do.  Physically it is a blessing to be able to get on your knees. Ask an amputee, someone in intensive care, or someone who does not have the use of their limbs.  It is a blessing to be able physically to get on your knees.

Yes, it is a position of surrender. And who better to surrender to than to God.

 

In trying to follow God’s directive in creating and growing Gospel Against AIDS, I am constantly in situations that are completely out of my control. The battles have and continue to be plenteous. Daily I speak to individuals who do not want to acknowledge their risk behaviors. I pray for them. Sadly, I am asked to perform an increasing number of home going services for individuals who have passed from AIDS related illnesses. I get on my knees for them. I am called to hospital bedsides, receive 911 calls from someone newly diagnosed, asked to translate positive diagnosis for French-speaking women far away from their families, and the list goes on. I am humbled to be called on for such delicate and sensitive situations. Seeing their pain, confusion and anger, my heart breaks for all them.  While epidemiologists see these cases as “numbers” I am close to them and know that they are people who need love at this time more perhaps more than ever before. I am not the only one in the GAA team that encounters these situations. Everyone has, some more frequently than others. And with each encounter, I have tried to instill in everyone, the power they have to pray. Pray for the individuals and prayer for themselves that they can hear and heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit and say what needs to be said or say nothing at all.   I have watched their lives change because of these encounters. It has been a beautiful thing.

 

GAA does far more than just HIV CTR. At its core, we have been regarded as a “ministry” because of our ability and willingness to “get on our knees.”

 

I don’t want anyone to have to find themselves waiting the longest 15 minutes of their life for their HIV test results before they realize that they need to or should have been getting on their knees. Get on your knees before the battle comes. Humble yourself every day. There are some who say that they don’t have to get on their knees to surrender to God. Yes that’s true, because of the shredded blood of Jesus the Christ; we don’t “have” to get on our knees. When I am driving, or working or any number of things I pray, but during my sacred time, for me, it is a position of gratitude, the highest form of respect, and surrender.

 

My childhood bedtime prays have given way to more of a conversation but mostly I am learning how to listen.  And I do this all on my knees.

 

“Fight all your battles on your knees and you will win.”

                                                Dr. Charles Stanley

worthy.jpg




Rosalind Andrews-Worthy

Executive Director 

GAA: A Unique Response to HIV/AIDS

Since 1997, Gospel Against AIDS (GAA)/Global Research Education and Training Networks (GREATNES) has generated an amazing portfolio of work, outreach, education, advocacy – and now testing and counseling – in urban and rural areas throughout the state of Michigan.   GAA/GREATNES is unique among faith-based communities in the provision of evidence based programs that effectively and significantly changes fear to action among congregations and communities who receive and process transformative curriculums of HIV pathogenesis, prevention and treatment in faith congregations and communities. 

 

Besides prevention education, GAA/GREATNESS was moved to respond to draconian cuts of 50% in HIV services in the state of Michigan during the reformulation of CARE act dollars (2010-2013) to move away from communities successfully reducing new cases of HIV to follow communities with increases in new cases of HIV infection, increases in more people living with HIV, and fewer deaths associated with HIV infection.  While dollars follow the epidemic, there are dramatically fewer funded resources to support communities that continue to show these reductions.  In March of 2012, GAA/GREATNES received its state certification to provide conventional HIV CTR in the State of Michigan. This was the first time a faith-based agency in the State of Michigan received this designation. In May 2013, GAA/GREATNES became a state certified Rapid Testing site. From May 2013 – August 2013, GAA/GREATNES has tested over 300 individuals in 15 houses of worship. Of that number 7 of the 15 houses of worship have become permanent HIV testing sites; five of those houses of worship distribute condoms.  In a time of continued reductions for HIV services, one organization - GAA/GREATNES has tripled the number of Detroit based testing sites within two years. A handful of programs stands between current low rates and a new epidemic of increased HIV infection rates.  As CDC funds continue to follow the epidemic, we hold out hope that programs like GAA/GREATNES receive more, not less financial support. 


Dr. Larry Gant

Professor of Social Work, School of Social Work, and Professor of Art and Design, School of Art and Design

Gospel Against AIDS Board Member


Condoms and the Cross

Is it possible to righteously use these two words in the same sentence? Condoms and the cross. The former labeled by the church a sign of human depravity and immorality, our fall from grace and God’s disappointment in our loss of purity. The second is the most venerable physical sign of Christian orthodoxy and the place where we believe that we become reconciled to God. Those who value and appreciate one certainly would not value the other, would they?

Not long ago, our Detroit church restarted a small safer sex kit distribution program that will grow over the course of the year. It reaches church members, those who take advantage of our food pantry and community kitchens, athletes who use our gymnasium and more. Of course the kits include condoms and other items that make for safer and better sex, as well as educational materials and a sentence or two of scripture intended to remind recipients of the love of God and love of neighbor. Thanks in part to Gospel Against AIDS and the energy of members of our church and community, the program has so far been a success. 

Some have asked us why we would distribute kits with condoms. Of course the easy and most accurate answer is, “Because people need them.” Many Christians, however, do not accept that reasoning. Even in 2013, it seems that the vast majority of churches in most denominations, maybe even most faith groups, still have a very hard time talking about sex and sexuality. Our modern Christian cultural rhetoric has taught us that things are changing and the forever held value of abstinence, sex only in the context of marriage, has fallen in the past generation or two. (Ask my family elders born out of wedlock in the 1950s and 1920s about the long-standing practice of abstinence!) It is a frightening time to be in the church when it appears that our values and long standing cultural teachings are being challenged by every television show, advertisement and pop culture icon.

Nevertheless, the beauty of being a Christian is not found in declarations of righteous and unrighteous behavior, but in the person of Jesus who walked among the people and turned the eyes of the church to the needs of those who surrounded him. The religious leaders attacked Jesus for allowing people to do the work to get something to eat on the Sabbath and for touching people scripture and the religious leaders deemed unclean. I am certain they would have condemned him for handing out condoms as well. He always turned the argument, however, from ideological purity to the needs of the people.

We are in a world, in 2013, with a rapid expansion of HIV. It is our call as church to meet the needs of the people with compassion, love and life—changing power. We walk with people in their lives, all of us changed when we authentically love one another as neighbors. The traditional teachings of the church, of abstinence-only sex, are so far from the reality of our culture that it is time we understand the needs of the people and respond rather than living in the ivory towers of supposed moral righteousness. 

It is immoral for the church not to respond to the spread of HIV. In fact, it is doubly immoral for us not to respond because we are responsible as an institution for discouraging honest talk and loving behavior. In the 1980s and 1990s we, as church, contributed to the isolation of HIV patients and led a supposed moral crusade against those who did not live what we determined to be righteous lives. Even if we did not actively isolate those with HIV, or those at greatest risk for the disease, we were silent when others who called themselves Christians did so. As in any crusade, many people died.

As HIV takes a breath, digs in its heals and begins to grow again in this era, we as Christians have the chance to redeem ourselves and live our faith. When we talk about sex openly in the context of trust, respect, honor, love and honesty rather than on the platform of religious purity, we are more authentic to the faith. We also stand a better chance of changing peoples’ lives for the better.

When we offer safer sex kits, a wall comes down. In almost every case, whether received by members of the church or strangers, a bit of unhealthy fear of the church and religion begins to fade. We are able to have a real relationship with each other, and even with God. The cross is the place where fear goes to die. Liberation and freedom take fear’s place. The cross is the perfect symbol of the power of transformation. As church, may we be transformed by the cross enough to be honest with ourselves, our own people and the world around us. Honesty for us means we need to distribute safer sex kits. It is time we loved people as much as our ideologies.

Rev. Matthew Bode is the pastor of Spirit of Hope, Detroit 

Become a Change Agent

These two passages of Scriptures come to my soul when I think of the collaboration between GAA and New Beginnings Cathedral as we have traveled near and far ministering to Gods people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples,The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. (Matthew 9:35-37, NIV)

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, andhe was cleansed. (Mark 1:40-42, KJV)

GAA and NBC are made up of men, women and young people who aremoved with compassion to mobilize and touch people with the love of God. Jesus'example inspirse us to engage in missions and outreach that will help heal, encourage, and offer hope to the marginalized. The human touch that the example of Jesus inspires in the GAA and NBC collaboration includes educating, proclaiming, and continual caring for those that suffer in this pandemic. We truly believe that there is a plentiful harvest among those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS who are in need of Gods compassion through the human touch.

We are always praying for more compassionate people to help minister because the need is so great. Will you consider being an agent of change with us?

 

Bishop Timothy Williams is pastor of New Beginnings Church in Detroit.