Voice of the Youth

As the grandmother of the author below and a person living with HIV for 35 years, it is very important to recognize the voice of our youth on different issues that they are passionate about. They are our future leaders. Whether they are fighting for people living with HIV, stigma, discrimination, or better education, it is crucial that we hear what they have to say because it’s their future we are talking about. This is the way to get our youth involved: by letting them have their voices heard. So please continue to read what this brilliant young lady has to say about some of the issues she fights for.


Girls Stand Up

Young women everywhere are limited to certain things whether it be sports or something as simple as working. People may think, “So what? That’s how it’s always been.” My response to those people is that it doesn’t have to be like that anymore. We can stand up and make a change for what’s right.

For example, lets take a school sport: basketball. The boys’ team always has nicer uniforms and they always seem to be more praised. However, when you look at the girls’ team, hardly anyone attends the games and their uniforms are probably the same as the year before.

Well here’s what I think about the treatment we get compared to the boys. We can work and play as hard as they do, so what’s the big deal! Us women should be able to have the same opportunities as men—we are just as strong as they are, maybe even stronger. Just because we look weak and small doesn’t mean anything. Women everywhere should take a stand and show the men in this world what we are made of because we are more then just a pretty face. We should be the voice for other women, but most importantly be the voice for ourselves. Stand for what you believe in and do whatever it takes… just be you.

Now for us teenagers (young men and women), we all know what’s been happening in our schools. We’ve lost lives and now we are scared of what’s going to happen next. I know we all ask ourselves questions like, “Will I be next? And what are the adults doing about it?” Nothing is my answer. In my opinion, I think we need to get up on our feet, stand up, and speak up for what we believe in—don’t be scared.

I just read something that a girl posted. She’s trying to get into a better school, of course for better opportunities, but it’s hard because now the school is taking steps that are unnecessary and she said, “EVERYBODY should have the right to a good education and GOOD Resources!! But, right now the school system is only worried about MONEY, giving teachers guns, and the school population makeup. PRIORITIES HAVE GOT TO BE STRAIGHTEN OUT in the School system.”

Here’s what I think about that: she is right, but what about us? The school system is worried about giving the teachers more safety—what about OUR safety? What about OUR voices? I see teens fighting everywhere for a change and the administration is not budging. So what are we supposed to do? Well here’s something… don’t stop fighting for what you think is right. Be the change you want in the world, but don’t change because of the world. All it takes is a leap of faith and a little bit hope to keep fighting.

Hooray, it’s National HIV Testing Day! 

So why is it important to get tested? There can be so many different reasons NOT to go get tested and the reality is many people don’t believe that they are at risk for an HIV diagnosis. You may be thinking, “I don’t participate in that kind of lifestyle, I work on Wall Street, or I’m married, etc.”

But you see there’s this stigma surrounding HIV- that diagnosis is directly related to behavior and lifestyle choices -as if some people do not “qualify” for diagnosis and are immune to HIV. This is not the case. The ugly truth is almost everybody is at risk for an HIV diagnosis. If you’ve ever had a sexual relationship, are currently in a sexual relationship, are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you might be are at risk. Understand that HIV is a health condition, not a punishment for behavior.

Now let me ask you a better question… Are you ready to go and get tested? If you’re answer is no, then I’d say that’s even more of a reason to get tested for HIV. The bottom line is it’s better to know than not to know, believe me.

There are lots of ways to prevent the transmission of HIV. You have PrEP*, condoms, abstinence, the list goes on, but the very first step is knowing your status. When you don’t know your status, you run the risk of transmitting HIV to others, or even worse, dying prematurely from lack of necessary treatment. But on the flip side, when you DO know your status you can begin treatment sooner and with consistency, live a long, healthier and productive life, and prevent transmitting the virus further.

So why not get tested or retested? When we examine the issue at its core, what’s really holding people back from knowing their status is fear. Please know that it’s absolutely normal and okay to be afraid, but you can’t let that stop you. It’s your health and potentially your life at stake—you have to take control!

Someone once told me, “If I had known my status earlier, I would not have been diagnosed with AIDS. That’s what made me get tested.”

The bottom line is, it’s not all about you. Think about your friends, family, and partners; they are affected when you don’t know your status and we’re trying to get to zero! Now that I know my status, I would love for you to know yours as well because Silence=Death. So, don’t be afraid and don’t be ashamed. Get tested, everybody’s doing it! 🙂

*PRep is a medication for those who are not living with HIV, but are at risk. It is said to be estimated at 99% effective when taken as prescribed, in preventing the transmission of HIV

Local Testing Sites-Alachua County:

Not in the Gainesville/ Alachua County area? Check out the website to find a testing site near you: https://locator.hiv.gov/

Some of the events will feature counseling and testing, education, free condoms, and referrals to other resources in the community that deal with HIV/AIDS issues.

Wednesday (6/27/2018)

GRACE Marketplace
3055 NE 39th Ave

Time: 8 a.m.-12 p.m.

The Heart of Gainesville Thrift Store
125 NW 23rd Ave.

Time: 3-6 p.m.

(Please call and schedule an appointment and be sure to arrive 30 minutes earlier if you are not already a HealthStreet member (You must become a HealthStreet member (FREE) for the free testing)

2401 SW Archer Road
Time: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Phone: (352) 294-4880

Friday (6/29/2018)

University of Florida Health Family Medicine
1707 N. Main St.

Time: 5:30-8:30 p.m.


Citrus County:

Wednesday (6/27/2018)

Florida Department of Health
3700 W. Sovereign Path, Lecanto, FL 34461
Time: 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Phone: (352) 527-0068

“As an advocate for Women living with HIV, this is very close to my heart. In this day and age, this test can change your life! You can live a long and great life as with many diagnoses. We must end the stigma attached to so many medical conditions.”


Suicide, My Dirty Little Secret

I live each day with a dirty little secret. Suicide. My sister and I were only 13 and 17 when my mother left; she died just a day shy of her 35th birthday. She was hospitalized after taking some pills three days prior. I lived over 100 miles away. I called that morning to check her status and a nurse said, “Hold on, the doctor wants to speak with you”. Shortly after, a stranger came on the phone and said, “Your Mother just died.” “Why? How? She was listed in fair condition for the past three days,” I asked. I had so many questions, but it was the stranger’s next response that would forever change the world my sister and I have come to know.

“Her heart just stopped.” I was married and five months pregnant when she died, and my sister had been sent to me by greyhound bus two days before. Handling all of the details of hospital releases, funeral homes, etc. is a lot for anyone, but especially for young people. My Aunt who was 27 and seven months pregnant helped my small family deal with it all, and my reliable young husband supported us.

Guilt! Survivors always feel guilty.

Guilt kept me from making that final choice a few times. Since those early days of my life there’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think about suicide in one form or another. My Mom’s, my own, and people around me. My dirty little secret. But I never want my children to suffer the way I have, and the way my sister has suffered. My Mom missed a lot by leaving us in July 49 years ago. She never met her grandchildren or her great grand children. I never want to miss out on that special time of life.

When I was first diagnosed with HIV I was in a fog, but in facing reality I knew that my dirty little secret would keep me company and would always be there for me. It was an “out” if I ever couldn’t handle it, or if my family abandoned me.

Do I consider myself suicidal? No!  But I think I understand how or why any person takes that escape choice—it’s like a hidden escape. Someone once said it takes more courage to live than it does to die and I believe that. I’m a strong, stubborn fighter and my courage has held me here for many years. Suicide is not an easy way out, it’s final! And there’s no coming back! So I’ve decided to fight the fight a while longer. Besides, there may be some people who’d like to see me gone and I’m not going to give them their wish. Lol.

Talk to a  counselor—A 24-hour hotline:   (800) 784-2433

Additional Reading: My 10-Step to-Do List for Enduring Depression, Josh Middleton.



Happy Holidays – Celebrate Yourself!


The holidays are coming, which means that everybody is probably stressed out. When you are living with HIV, this can be an especially hard part of the year. To get through it, we really have to try and relax and worry less. Being stressed has such a bad impact on our bodies, and it can make us sick and also unhappy. For those of us living with HIV, it can be really hard to stay positive- but there is nothing more important than being optimistic.

“Some of the things I focus on are the beauty of being with family, being able to go out and do things with friends, the beach, the fresh air, my plants and my animals that I love so much.”

Because of that, I’m trying to find practical ways to be more positive and in control of my own feelings. It can be very exhausting to be sick all the time, especially during the holidays. As bad as we feel, we are still so lucky to be on this planet. So, we have to try and be grateful and mindful of the little things. When we talk to people, we have to focus more on the awesome things about life. Some of the things I focus on are the beauty of being with family, being able to go out and do things with friends, the beach, the fresh air, my plants and my animals that I love so much. It is way too easy to sit on the couch and feel bad, so I push myself to get out and take advantage of every single day.

“…You need to try to give yourself something! Have a positive outlook and celebrate yourself!”

In 2018, focus on YOU! Don’t worry about everyone else. You have to focus on yourself. In order to get through the holidays, prioritize yourself. This season is about giving, so you need to try to give yourself something! Have a positive outlook and celebrate yourself! Wake up and be thankful that you’re here. We are so lucky to be here. Think about the things you love that make life beautiful. Try to get out. I am excited to get out on the water, to kayak, to do yoga, and walk around the yard. There are so many amazing things in life to enjoy. When I’m at home, I am thankful for the quiet and the peace that surrounds me. I enjoy hearing the birds in the evening. I go out right before sunset and talk to my plants, listen to the animals. Every night I want to go to bed thankful and happy to be alive.

Happy Holidays and here’s to a great New Year coming up!

Making Connections as a Pen Pal

“Being a pen pal helps me as much as it helps the other person,” she explained. “I can take that and use it.”

Based on many of the conversations we have had with the women who participate in our Let’s Talk About it Sisterhood Pen Pal program, it seems like one of the hardest things to deal with when living with HIV is the isolation and alienation that women are often forced to deal with. Our program seeks to break down some of these barriers of isolation, but it can go so much farther than that. Many women make amazing and profound connections between their roles as pen pals and other justice work they are involved in.

“You learn that you can’t give up. No matter how bad what’s happening is.”

I am thinking, right now, of one specific woman I spoke with who linked her pen pal-ship with work she is doing and has been doing for incarcerated women. She drew fluid connections between these two spheres of her life. She discussed the connections she makes with women currently incarcerated, and how it “means so much to hear from someone who has been in the same position…it’s the power of reaching out to strangers, who maybe you will never meet, but are in a situation that you know. That’s so strong.”

She discussed how she draws power from her role as a pen pal and applies it to the other work she is involved in. “Being a pen pal helps me as much as it helps the other person,” she explained. “I can take that and use it.” She talked about the power of resilience and persistence that women living with HIV and women trapped in the prison system have to learn. “Being a pen pal, or being there for someone who just needs it…that’s huge. You learn that you can’t give up. No matter how bad what’s happening is. You keep up.”

Moments of Gratitude

“We are only given today and never promised tomorrow.”

Yesterday we spent two and a half hours at an amazing concert. It started with Kenny G, then Adele, next was Celine Dion, then Barry White, and finished with some Frank Sinatra. It was the best time we’ve had in months if not years. It was extra special.

Now I’ll tell you why it was so special and the music was so varied. We were bedside visiting my 87-year-old Mother-in-Law at a nursing home. In July she suffered a massive stroke and the room is her home now. The stroke sped up the Alzheimer’s and dementia that she was living with for the last several years. After her stroke she didn’t know her name or recognize her five children or other family for days. She did start to recognize familiar faces but couldn’t match a name to a face. Months later, she still asks for ones not there and sometimes they are but she doesn’t know them. She slips back into childhood and asks for Grandmother, Grandfather, or other long gone family members. She at times thinks her children are those grandparents.

So the music was so special because my Mother-in-Law smiled, kept time with the music, and tried to sing a few words when she recognized the song. She told me one time “I’ve heard this before.”

“Her eyes were lit up and she was really enjoying herself.”

Seeing her so animated made us happy as we turned away to hide the tears. She lost the use of her whole right side and seeing her left foot moving to music and her head or hand bobbing was wonderful. Her eyes were lit up and she was really enjoying herself.

I had been looking for the “perfect” music player or boom box and suddenly decided yesterday to just use my phone and watch her reaction. Oh my God! She would keep her eyes on my screen until she’d look up and smile at one of us with her shining eyes. I was wrong to wait so long.

I know this is not my usual blog or subject on this blog group but I wanted to share my family’s experience and to remind us all of that quote: “We are only given today and never promised tomorrow.”


Long Distance Friendships: Expressing Yourself with a Pen Pal

“I hope I’ve changed her life like she has changed mine, and I feel like I probably have”

Being a pen pal holds a different meaning for each woman who takes on the role. Through the Let’s Talk About it Sisterhood Pen Pal Program, women can explore their unique needs as individuals and foster friendships that help them address these needs. For some of our members, a pen pal can help ease a sense of isolation or loneliness. For others, a pen pal can serve as a boost of excitement or support.

One woman who I spoke with told me how her pen pal friendship is a release for her. She lives an incredibly busy life and is often swamped with everyday duties and caregiving work. She described her experience as a pen pal as something that lets her step away from the chaos of daily life; something that forces her to find moments for herself. Her pen pal gives her advice, shares resources and provides wisdom. “I love having her because she has been through it longer than me. She helps me out a lot. It’s like I have somebody different outside my house, and my world…it’s really an outlet.”

“She just gets me,” she said. “She’s really just a good friend. It’s like someone you haven’t seen, but you can rely on.”

She expressed a deep sense of love and commitment to her pen pal. and told me about the connection they have. “She just gets me,” she said. “She’s really just a good friend. It’s like someone you haven’t seen, but you can rely on.”

We also discussed the reciprocal benefits of having a pen pal, and she said that she feels like she probably adds a lot of positivity to her friend’s life. “I hope I’ve changed her life like she has changed mine, and I feel like I probably have,” she said. “I feel like I cheer her up a lot. I’m kind of like her cheerleader, you know? We just put in a lot of work to explain how much we appreciate each other.” And when I asked her how she would sum up her friendship in a few sentences if she had to, she laughed and told me, “Well, she’s so sweet! I feel like she was picked out of the candy jar. I love her to death.”


Staying Positive: the Power of Pen Pal Support

“It is not every day that you encounter a friendship that has had the power to transform someone’s life”

It is not every day that you encounter a friendship that has the power to transform someone’s life. And it is even rarer that these types of friendships happen between near-strangers who live miles apart. However, when I interviewed one of our Let’s Talk About It Pen Pals this week, that is exactly the type of beautiful relationship I discovered.

I spoke to this inspirational woman on the phone after she attended the OASIS Positive Living Conference, and she shared with me her journey living with HIV and the beauty of her experience as a pen pal. Through a stunning twist of fate, she actually got the chance to meet up with her pen pal and the rest of the Let’s Talk About It women at the conference. She happened to be talking to an LTAI member about being a pen pal, and this member mentioned that conversation to someone else, and then the women all pieced the information together. This was the pen pal of somebody in LTAI! It sounded like an extremely emotional and touching experience, and by the end of the weekend she had inspired the LTAI group so much that one of our women spoke up and talked about how powerful the whole meeting had been.


I asked her what it means to be a pen pal, and she told me that it means the world. “It’s something positive you can rely on, when it feels like everything else is going wrong,” she explained. “When you live with HIV, you have to be positive, and having my pen pal makes me stay optimistic.” I asked her to expand on that, and she told me about the feeling of having a difficult day, and then going to her mailbox and finding a package filled with loving, unique gifts. “It’s very optimistic, and it just helps me feel good about myself. I also pass these things on to other women. It’s like passing on little pieces of positivity.”

“…describing the growth she has experienced from a shy, reserved person into somebody who is passionate about expressing herself, networking, meeting up with other women and sharing resources.”

We discussed the strength that she has gained through this program, describing the growth she has experienced from a shy, reserved person into somebody who is passionate about expressing herself, networking, meeting up with other women and sharing resources. She is goal-driven and learning how to speak up and advocate effectively for herself and others. “Doing this with Let’s Talk About It is just inspirational,” she said, “and it reminds me always that I’m not alone, you are never alone.” And when I asked what her current goals are, she happily told me “Well, hopefully one day I can get out to a meeting and join you all. That’s something I’m going to grab in the future.”

Sharing Joy with a Pen Pal

“Writing to her pen pal, and receiving letters in return, is a way for her to ‘pass on’ happy thoughts that she has towards herself and others.”

Through the Let’s Talk About It Sisterhood Pen Pal Program, women are able to reach out to those far away from them and give and receive uplifting, positive messages. Oftentimes, living with HIV can seem overwhelming, negative, and isolating. However, through the interviews I have been conducting with women who are a part of our Pen Pal program, I have been honored to witness some incredibly positive and optimistic moments.

One woman in particular who I spoke with showed me the sheer beauty of having a friend to write to. She was so bright and lovely when we chatted, and very happy to answer my questions with simple statements like, “Well, I just love having a pen pal!” She told me her favorite part of the experience was the simple, fun nature of the relationship. It didn’t add any stress to her life and instead was an uplifting, light thing that kept her upbeat. Her and her pen pal communicate about once a week and they send each other poems, bookmarkers, inspirational quotes, and share pieces of wisdom they may come across throughout the week. “I wrote her this little poem this week,” she told me, “and I just can’t wait to see how much she loves it! I know she’s going to love it.” Writing to her pen pal, and receiving letters in return, is a way for her to “pass on” happy thoughts that she has towards herself and others.

Pen Pals: Fighting Isolation with Friendship

“When I get one of her letters, it makes me feel wanted,” she said.

As we enter into Fall, a period of reflection, we want to take some time to look back at accomplishments and the growth that we have seen here at Let’s Talk About It. Many members have been pen pals through our Sisterhood Pen Pal program for a couple of years, and we want to spend the next few weeks looking back on the impact of these friendships through weekly blog posts about interviews with women who are pen pals.

As individuals, we have the power to heal, process and grow through pain. Often these things happen alone, or through personal struggle. But having a sense of community and solidarity to aid one through a difficult experience can mean the world. With Let’s Talk About It, we have clearly seen the benefit of having a pen pal to help women living with HIV through lonely or hard moments.

One of the members of the Let’s Talk About It Sisterhood Pen Pal Program recently spoke to me about the power of her friendship with her pen pal. She talked of the love she has for her, and when I asked what she feels she offers her pen pal, she immediately replied, “Well, I love her to death.” When discussing what made the pen pal friendship different than others, she talked to me about the power of breaking down barriers and stigma. “When I get one of her letters, it makes me feel wanted,” she said.

It can be hard living in isolation, especially when you have HIV. And as she said, her pen pal keeps her relaxed and certain that she is not alone. Even when other people may reject her, she has the support of her pen pal. With her, there is no barrier and no judgment. She is able to overcome her isolation with the love she has fostered through this friendship.