My AIDSWATCH 2018 Experience
by LaWanda Wilkerson
“Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights! Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!” – Bob Marley
This quote from Bob Marley’s song describes what me and many other advocates were doing at AIDSWATCH 2018, the 25th anniversary of AIDSWATCH. This was my second year attending AIDSWATCH and it was amazing to meet and listen to phenomenal advocates speak on various issues that affect me and others who are living with HIV as it encourages me and others to keep fighting. For me, this year’s AIDWATCH has given me the opportunity to be able to continue to grow as an advocate who is just beginning her journey as an advocate. This AIDSWATCH has been a great help to me on becoming informed on many issues that affect me and others, like the 340B program and just our overall well being.
AIDSWATCH also gave me the opportunity to finally meet some of my PWN (Positive Women’s Network) sisters who have welcomed me with open arms, while being a inspiration to me the same time. I also had the pleasure of meeting Deondre B. Moore, who has been a huge inspiration to me and encouraged me to be a advocate in my small rural community in North Carolina. While at AIDSWATCH, I was also able to reunite and catch up with my mentor, Wanda Brendle-Moss, who has taken me under her wing.
This year’s AIDSWATCH opened up with the President and CEO of AIDS United, Jesse Milan’s message that started the event with a speech about using our voice to inspire change within our communities.
After the powerful AIDSWATCH opening, there were various sessions that touched on many topics that affect people living with HIV, which made it very hard to make a decision on which ones to attend. The session that I attended was the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative/Southern AIDS Coalition meeting. From this session, I learned that North Carolina ranked 11th in the nation for HIV-related death rates in 2015. Mind blowing fact, right? This one fact pushes me to be the kind of advocate who not only inspires but educates at the same time.
The next day, which was our day on Capitol Hill, kicked off with a powerful rally that set the tone for some very productive meetings with our state legislators, who listened and hopefully took to heart our concerns about our future and how the decisions that they make affect us. I know that my voice is just one small vessel that can and hopefully will make a difference in the future.