Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a time to reflect on how the HIV/AIDS epidemic has affected our community for over 30 years. There’s much to celebrate. However, there is is still more to change. The female face of HIV still looks like my mother, coworkers and friends. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an unacceptable 65% of all women diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are Black.
In our quest to end the AIDS epidemic, we must transform a society that doesn’t value the lives of men who have sex with men and the lives of women of color. Every day brings another assault on our health. Black women continue to die from pregnancy-related causes at rates much higher than White women. Last month three Black trans women were murdered in Louisiana in rapid succession. Just this week, the White House threatened to defund Planned Parenthood, a policy that will expose women of color to higher rates of gynecological cancers, sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), unplanned pregnancies and HIV/AIDS.
While statistics and policies serve as a call for urgent action, they can never capture the richness of the Black female experience. My life amounts to more than the worst thing I have done or the worst thing that has been done to me. I am more than the uninformed decisions I have made to value my partners’ convenience over my safety and wellbeing. I am more than the visits to my OB/GYN that didn’t go as planned. I am more than the sexual assaults I’ve experienced. I am more than my broken heart.
I am my future—a wife, mother, writer and social justice warrior. You are your future, too. Our collective future entitles us to abundance, prosperity and the best the universe has to offer. We can be more than just healthy. We can be healed.
I’m lucky to live in a place that encourages my own healing. Today, anyone older than 12 can enter New York City’s Sexual Health Clinics, safe spaces where you can receive services without judgement, get tested for HIV and other STIs and leave with information and cutting-edge tools to protect your health. The Sexual Health Clinics provide diagnosis and treatment of STIs (including HIV), condoms and lube, contraception, vaccines to prevent cancer (HPV and Hepatitis) and mental health and addiction support. As a young woman learning to protect my spirit, I’m so glad my city helps protect my body. Other women are not as fortunate. My mom and sister live in Mississippi, a state with only one abortion clinic and decreasing access to reproductive rights. I worry about them every day.
But my trust eclipses my worry. I trust in our ability to protect ourselves, our families and our communities. I trust in the wisdom we’ve inherited from generations of foremothers who survived even more oppression than what we are experiencing now. I trust in our ability to make a way out of no way.
I trust in our ability to heal.