Posts Tagged ‘for every action there is a reaction’

 
Image  April second through the fourth saw 55 young black men from across the nation to meet in Atlanta, Georgia for the YBGLI’s second Policy and Advocacy Summit. When I confirmed to my parents that I was gay so many years ago they warned me that my life would be very difficult, and that it would be full of barriers that would require me to be the very best in everything that I do. This belief stayed within and made me believe until more recently that if I was not perfect or the best in whatever I was attempting then there was no reason trying to pursue.

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  While on my flight heading to Atlanta so many thoughts were running through my head. I really wanted to work hard to learn as much as possible and network. I am not going to lie when I felt as if the summit would be the same as any other conference, which would be information overload and maybe some opportunities to network. We all met downstairs to talk and network before walking over to the location we had our first session waiting for us. It was a great opportunity because it was a happy hour. This allowed us to begin the process to truly get to know each other. It was truly great to see old friends but have the ability to start the process of making new ones. Our first night had us at The Evolution Project. The Evolution Project is a drop-in community center for young black gay/bisexual men and transgender individuals between 18 and 28 years of age. There we got an overview of the drop-in center, listened to representatives of AID Atlanta and the state health department, and got to hear from Jose R. Rodriguez-Diaz who is the CEO of AID Atlanta. We then received a presentation on the Affordable Care Act and then had a private screening of Blackbird by Patrik-Ian Polk.

  Throughout the next day and a half we discussed health disparities, policy, advocacy, HIV prevention among Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men (YBMSM), research, leadership, Feminism and its importance to Black Gay Men, and personal development & personal branding. The always-fantastic Testing Makes Us Stronger Team gave a presentation on their program to us before the Twitter Town Hall that will forever remain one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

On the final day, we had two very special events and both of them I will cherish for the rest of my life. We had the pleasure of having Dr. Theo Hodge, whom is a provider in DC, yet shared his story about his experiences in the district during the AIDS epidemic. Hearing him tell the stories of having clients taking HIV medications in the handfuls, the effects of AZT that were physically noticeable, and more importantly reviewing the timeline of then to here. The recording of the presentation needs to happen so it has the opportunity to play for every Young Black Gay Man (heck everyone) who is not familiar with the history of HIV. Our group truly enjoyed his charisma and his ability to convey such a serious story in a way to continue to engage us throughout our time together. Finally, the last session of the summit was one where Dr. David Malebranche, Dr. Sheldon D. Fields, Robert Miller, and Mr. Bernard Owens each gave us their stories and additional encouragement. I cannot tell you how much I saw the future me in these men. Each of them made me feel so comfortable I was able to break down my walls of protection and cry on their shoulders. I finally was able to let out my internalized stress and express my frustrations in a space where I felt as if I did not have to be either politically correct or forced to give some bullshit pageant reply like “I just want world piece.” It is truly a blessing to be in this position; however, it sometimes makes me feel extra diligent to stay on my Ps and Qs (even if that means saving those conversations for ‘kitchen table talk’). Immediately they offered their experiences and friendships and I am happy to say that post YGBLI’s Policy and Advocacy Summit we are still in contact and their words and perspectives have been invaluable. Having this opportunity would have been very difficult to achieve outside of this space.

This summit was definitely a success and far exceeded my expectations. The participants were very diverse and came from different geographical areas and professional (not just HIV). Topics were set but we had the ability to truly dissect what we were discussing, even if it transitioned off-topic for a bit. Having the ability to speak to representatives of our government agencies (CDC, HRSA, SAMHSA, and the Georgia Department of Public Health) gave us the ability to voice our concerns, thoughts, and ideas. The lack of job vacancies/internships and leadership positions, slow approval times for marketing materials, lack of funding to rural and other low socioeconomic communities that are seeing a rise in HIV, lack of cultural competency, and a vast array of others issues that were mentioned during this time period. I concern I had was that many of the representatives on the panel were white and only two members participating were Black. This is a perfect reminder that we need to have more opportunities to have Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men (to include those who are HIV-positive) to fill these seats in the future to ensure that decisions made for us are created by and come from us. A huge shout-out though goes to Mr. Harold Phillips of HRSA who saw a need to address our questions due to the lack of time/ability of those reps on the panel to answer them. He graciously volunteered his own time to say back lack from 12am-1am to answer any of the questions he could. During this time, our awesome Organizing Committee Members took who concerns down and later brought them up with Douglas Brooks, the New Director Imageof the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). Feeling as if we had a voice was very empowering. Having that experience has and will continue to ensure engage my government on concerning issues.

The Policy and Advocacy Summit allowed for the formation of new relationships and partnership .It was like a beginning of a new brotherhood. From my end, there were phenomenal conversations and I cannot wait to announce fantastic news in the coming weeks! Addressing surviving as an YBMSM professional, leadership, and more importantly branding made me look at myself and analyze ways I can still to this day continue to seek self-improvement. This summit created a space where we could exchange stories, ideas, experiences, and more importantly continued support for one another. To this day, I am still in contact with many of my new friends and colleagues as we check in or support each other through the struggles of being an YBMSM in a society that has serious issues accepting us as social norms.

Coming to a close of the summit Daniel Driffin, Chair of the Organizing Committee for YBGLI said something that we all took back to our homes, careers, and everyday lives. This was that our voice does matter, no matter where we were, no matter how hard the struggle was, and no matter how muchImage we felt like our voices were unheard. This can seem very frustrating at jobs or ASOs where our advice or knowledge isn’t used; we continue to be disenfranchised; we deal with disrespect or ignorance from Cisgender white men (even gay) who do not truly understand the struggles and barriers of being a young Black Man who loves Men. These men still face a huge war within our own communities, to include mainstream society. His words really were soothing and helped to bury anger and resentment I had from some of those situations. In the end, I truly hope that this summit continues and wish that many more could take place across the country. If we can get more YBMSMs to go through a program like this, our community would see an increase in advocacy, activism, enlightenment, and progression toward more solidarity.

 

A very special thank you goes out to NGBMAC, NASTAD, The City of Atlanta, AID Atlanta, The Evolution Project, Testing Makes Us Stronger, Sphere Lab, The Red Door Foundation, Inc., AIDS.gov, Gilead, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Georgia Department of Health, Impulse Group, AHF, Hudson Grille, Patrik-Ian Polk, HRC, Broadway Cares, Levi Strauss Foundation, Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel, Summit Faculty, OC Members, and more importantly the participants for making this event happen.  For more information check out www.ybgli.org

New Year New Us!

So bringing in 2014 there will be many of our loved ones, friends, family, colleagues, and strangers who will be ready to begin their New Year Resolutions in hopes of completing them all by the end of the year.  Let’s be honest though, who ever completes every single New Years’ Resolutions?  This year I plan to do something different that I think will be successful and I invite you all to do the same.

I often tell people that my HIV diagnosis two years ago involved me going through a sort of metamorphosis.  During this process I evolved as a person, on very physical, emotional, and spiritual levels that were all for good.  I saw things more clearly and made a point to go forward with any dreams I had.  Can anyone relate?  As an 18 year old in high school I wanted to do it all.  From an officer in the United States Coast Guard, a professional tennis player, entertainer, author, a business owner, and married to the most perfect partner with the most phenomenal family.   I honestly wanted to have it all.  As time went on and my dream of not making it in the military and my tennis lacking success, I began not to day dream as much about those potentials.  Days that were once spent always day dreaming about my potential future became replaced with more “realistic ideas,” that were more fitting of survival in this world.  When I was diagnosed with HIV my eyes flashed before my eyes.  Like I talk about in one of my first videos I could have easily not have opted to test for HIV.  By not testing my plan was to remain in denial for the rest of my life.  Due to this life-changing event I made a choice to look at all of my dreams again and find ways to make them happen.

How is this relevant many of you may ask?  Well it is simple.  As Brian Litrell says, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  I looked at ways I can give back to my community (advocating and speaking out about different things that negatively affect it).  Although there are policies that prevent me from serving in the military there is hope, and we should definitely continue to pressure Congress and the Department of Defense in allowing individuals living with HIV to serve their country.  I also started playing a tennis league and also starting to look for opportunities like using YouTube for my video blogging, singing, and other projects like the MTV documentary to entertain individuals from around the world.  In 2014 I will also be focusing time on my book and creating a line of products I hope you all will enjoy.

I think it is important that we all reach out for our dreams and wants, no matter what they are.  Illnesses or even failure should not keep us from fighting what we want.  If we pray on our dreams, continue to work on them, and have affirmations then they will happen.  Affirmations are very important and Dr. Harra explains this very well in her Huffington Post Article.    Even if you are completing them at 50% that is better than never thinking you can.

  My three challenges for you all this year is very simple:

  1. 1.    Be there for others because there is always room to do more in this department.  Even by giving a friend a hug, a text during the day saying you are thinking of them, a nice thank you message to your boss (even if they are incompetent), and even saying congratulations or liking a comment of a rival are ways you can be there for others.  Volunteering your time or even donating to an AIDS Service Organization (ASO) or Community Based Organization (CBO) can be a way to give back.  A database of such organizations can be found here.
  2. 2.    Patching up issues with adversaries.  This is something that is very hard for me.  This will be tough for me because I may forget about the past but never forget, which can affect my actions.  We should learn how to forgive people for what they do and say.  No one is perfect so apologies are definitely fitting.  Our egos can be huge barriers at times where reconciliation can take place.
  3. 3.    Personal Growth can take place is so many different forms.  This can be traveling more, taking more vacations, learning a new skill, making new friends, soul searching, and even getting to a place where you can be more open about your HIV status. Personal growth can also include things professionally.  There is always room for self-improvement and we should always look at ways to better ourselves.

These three simple things can reach literally every goal people make each year.  I also think that to be able to accomplish these goals we have to have more realistic expectations.  A perfect example is how in the first of the year gyms see an increase of activity that soon tapers off by February/March.  By easing into to being physically active and going to the gym on a more consistent basis you start of small with goals like going at least 3 times a week for an hour or so, and then increasing it weekly with an additional day until you are going at a frequency that balances out in your everyday life.  Writing my book has seriously resulted in nothing ever happening past a few sentences a quarter; however, now I will dedicate a few minutes out of the day to brainstorm and write a few things.  The following month I will increase my writing to something more consistent and realistic to completing by the end of the year.  Fixing interpersonal issues can take place with exes, ex-friends, lack of a father-son relationship, etc.  They may not be enemies but I think that working on improving communication and ending conflicts helps to relieve stress and drama in one’s life.

In 2014 will you work on reaching the moon by having reasonable expectations and progress that will take place over time? Or will you rush into something head on, burn out, and give up halfway through?  Again HIV does not mean we cannot accomplish our dreams, so we must make sure that we don’t give up if we hit a brick wall.  Breaking through that wall and overcoming our fears and anxieties about such possibilities will result in us having success on some level.


IMG_0766  In this New Year and beyond it is important to simply do what is best for you.  Also, keeping in mind that this also includes doing what is needed to manage your HIV and all other outside sources that may influence it.  If anyone has issues with you or the healthier choices you are making to better yourself, then be the fabulous person you are and keep on strutting into the future!

  Check me out being featured on Edugaytion’s live stream.  This can also be downloaded via the iTunes store under podcasts!  Don’t  forget to check out Edugaytion!

So I landed in New Orleans around 11:30 am local time and was full of nervousness, anticipation, and a desire to complete my mission. My mission, which I chose to accept would be to represent people of my organization , NMAC’s Youth Initiative, and most importantly people living with HIV. My goals were to network, gain knowledge, and make connections that could help my community of Fredericksburg, VA and overall the increased number of people who are HIV Positive. You will notice for a first time I did not take any pictures of me on this trip. This is because attending this conference was not about me but more about the work that needed to be done. I was focused and ready to accomplish my mission. On the flight in I had already noticed so many of my friends and colleagues from the DMV area (DC, Maryland, Virginia) and was excited and relieved that I would know some people there.

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Arriving to the Hyatt Regency Conference Hotel I was amazed and thought to myself “wow USCA knows how to impress!” Arriving at the hotel I had made my way to the elevator and after ten minutes of trying to figure out how to operate it made my way up to my hotel room. While heading up to the room I turned around to the amazing view of The Superdome. It was gargantuan and a reality check that I had arrived. The room I was to reside in for four days was amazing. After spending the afternoon showering, grabbing lunch, and resting it was now time to head downstairs for the youth reception. It was there that I met amazing young people who had the same interest in ending this epidemic as I do. Words cannot describe the feelings of joy that I had being in a room with people who were also down for the cause. After that reception things just took off. From a dinner presentation about resilience from awesome plenary discussions about ending AIDS in the south, Perspectives on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), The Engagement Challenge, Personal stories surrounding HIV, and Implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Plenary sessions were

75925_10100476512901135_193260318_n1237426_509191059164700_2050760092_ogreat and I truly benefited from hearing personal stories. Mondo Guerra from Project Runway was present and took the time to speak and take pictures with us (thanks to Advocates For Youth for working to set that up). He thanked us for doing what we did and told us to stay vigilant in getting the word out and having those important conversations about HIV. What really shocked me was his persistence to stay and talk with us despite behind the scenes people trying to move him along. That spoke volumes on how big this opportunity was for me and the other scholars. I know Duane Cramer from our initial meeting at this year’s DC Black Pride; however, he continues to amaze through his friendliness and hard work.

The workshop sessions for me were the essential meat and potatoes of this conference. On the first official day of the conference I attended a session on Comprehensive Sexual Health Education as HIV Prevention, which was very interesting to be in. I had no idea that many states still only taught abstinence. I know that in my own high school career comprehensive sexual education was briefly mentioned while abstinence was more emphasized, but wow six years later and still no major moves. That was very disappointing to hear; however, we were told to reach out to our state representative and even the school board (which has huge power) to push for more comprehensive sexual education in our school systems. On day one we had a welcome to the whole Youth Initiative which went over roles, responsibilities, and expectations. This also allowed us additional time to get to know more about us and also what we were expecting from the conference. That session wrapped up day one and I spent the rest of the evening catching up on my homework which I was so behind on. IMG_1484

The start of day two went awesome. I awoke got ready for the day and made my way down to a very informal roundtable discussion for people living with HIV. The topic that was presented by the moderator Alex Garner of NMAC was “How do we bridge the intergenerational gap?” I was one of the very few young people in the room and I have to admit that I was so nervous and overwhelmed. In the room was Peter Staley, one of the original founding members of ACT UP New York, Oriol Gutierre of Poz.com and Poz Magazine, and Mark S. King successful creator of Myfabulousdisease.com and the web-series “The Real Poz Guys of Atlanta,” just to name a few. I was so humbled to be able to be in the presence of such great people. Most importantly I was able to listen to their stories, their wants, and most importantly their needs. What I got from this standing room only session was that many of the more experienced advocates were tired and were ready to pass on the torch to the next generation. Bear in mind many have been fighting the long hard battle for more than 30 years!! I also was given the floor to share my experiences and my thoughts, which I would have never imagined almost two years ago when I first learned my status. Peter Staley said something that really has and will continue to sit with me. He stated that it was depressing to see the HIV stigma among gay men. Every gay man who lives with HIV has experienced this before. It is heartbreaking to be treated differently from people in general let alone your own community. From the room I took away many connections and also support from strangers who turned quickly into my new extended family.

1017031_10200804696179231_2032299150_n The next session was one I was involved in. I was moderating a panel and audience discussion on Storytelling Using the Media & Cultural Arts. I was very honored that I was given the ability to moderate and lead this discussion as well as work alongside other intelligent and committed youth initiative scholars. The presentation went really well and we discussed how social media like Facebook ,Twitter, Blogging, and Vlogging can be effective tools in storytelling. Cultural arts are also very important. Taija, an Alaskan Native who was a panelist of this session shared with us how storytelling in her community is important. She shared a video with us, which served as a great example.

I also want to give a huge thanks to my other panelist Derek Hernandez and Felton Beeks who provided great feedback and knowledge surrounding social media tools that can be utilized. That evening we had the pleasure to meet Dr. Jack Whitescarver, Ph.D., NIH Associate Director for AIDS Research and Director, Office of AIDS Research. We all sat around informally as he told us the story on how he first was introduced to HIV/AIDS. It was very beneficial and I am greatly appreciative of the time Dr. Whitescarver took out to meet and talk with us.

On the morning of day three I attended a session on Engaging People Living with HIV in a Changing Environment. I am not going to lie I was a little late to the session due to engaging and networking with someone who is a fan of the pozlife stopping me (networking happens often in spaces like this). I slide into the session to notice my colleague Venton Jones of The National Black Gay Mens Advocacy Coalition on the panel of the discussion. My work doing the pozlifeofpatrick was highlighted by Venton and he asked me to tell everyone in the room about my story. So I quickly gave a synopsis of how I found out my status and why I created the blog (for you!) and before I knew it I was being followed by AIDS.GOV, the amazing Josh Robbins of Imstilljosh.com! A huge thank you to Venton Jones for giving me that opportunity to discuss the pozlifeofpatrick and the effectiveness it has been in engaging both HIV Positive and Negative individuals. In the afternoon I attended two sessions on Strategizing and Mobilizing to End the Epidemic and another session on PrEP Messaging. Both sessions had participation by youth initiative scholars and I was gaining so much knowledge from the points that were discussed. I particularly loved the discussion about PrEP. Start talking about innovations and expanding the prevention toolbox and I am there! It was a great discussion which really focused on the importance of PrEP and the role it will play going into the future in regards to decreasing new infections of HIV.

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On day four all the youth initiative scholars met and we closed out the session. I attended the lunch plenary session but left early to prepare to depart for the airport. For me it was a bittersweet moment. I have never really been to a summer camp I actually enjoyed; however, for four days I felt as if I was on top of the world. Where else but at my first USCA conference was I able to network with so many movers and shakers in the field of HIV, but most importantly be surrounded by like-mined young people who will be alongside me to take the torch and continue the fight. On my flight back I tried to think about what I really enjoyed about The U.S. Conference On AIDS overall and I would have to say outside of the sessions it had to be the people. For me it was fantastic interacting with such great people. From Paul Kawata, Executive Director of NMAC spending as much time as he could around the youth initiative scholars to the NMAC staff providing guidance and a very unofficial form of mentorship throughout this entire process. To Viiv Healthcare for having fantastic people speaking and engaging with us. Also, the Magic Johnson Foundation for being apart of the process and speaking on the last day about the importance of what we are doing as future leaders in our communities. Over a huge thank you to The National Minority AIDS Council for creating this initiative for me to be apart of. USCA 2013 had other major sponsors that helped to create an event of a lifetime for me. 1270341_509194375831035_858202610_o

I am already in the planning stages to attend USCA 2014 in San Diego, California and am excited to be apart of that conference. I know that more work has to be done to improve the treatment cascade so that more individuals living with HIV have undetectable viral loads. That takes place by having more prevention with people living with HIV. It is important to engage the community and getting them involved in the fight against HIV. Also, that ACA is right around the corner and will transport healthcare to a new destination we have never seen before. Leaving USCA 2013 I know that many understand the importance of PrEP to help reduce HIV transmissions. At the next conference I will be sure to bring empty luggage so I can take as many things as possible from the exhibition area. I appreciated the condoms, lube, pamphlets, posters, and other things that can be distributed in my community that needs these resources. I will always keep the youth initiative scholars of 2013 very close to me. In four days I developed friendships and camaraderie with these special young people I know I will be working with closely in the future.

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Photo on 1-31-13 at 8.16 PMSo since I was a child my parents always had a saying.  “For every action there is a reaction,” was something that they use to tell me before I got my rear end tore up due to a million and one things I did wrong.  I never truly understood that phrase and what it meant until I reached adulthood.  As a child I thought that my actions would never come back to haunt me nor would I ever be affected by them.  I was definitely wrong to think that.

Nowadays I can honestly say that my past is quite tainted.  I am for sure not perfection in any form and way.  I think our lack of perfection is something that makes us special; however, with the things in my closet I am pretty sure that a run for President or any major public office is not in my near future as of right now.  As I have said before, life is about living and experiencing and if we live with no incidents, tragedies, or being in bad or compromising situations we are not living like we should.  Personally, I would rather vote for a President who has been through life and knows about struggle and has learned from past messy behavior. Look at Wendy Williams… if you like her or not you have to give her credit where it is due.  She has dealt with substance and relationship abuse in her past and also her ability to get the scoop or “T,” on anyone; however, now she is on a globally syndicated talk show, has had a very successful radio career, and is expanding in other endeavors.  Again, put aside if you like her or not and just appreciate where she came from and where she is now.

To me there is something about imperfection that is attractive.  In some cases it sucks that as a 24 year old I still hear others talking about my past in the background.  If it was not for the mess I went through in the past I would not be the strong person I am today.  Experiencing pain really does strengthen you mentally.

So with all of that said let’s get to the point of this blog entry…. Over the past year I took a look at who I was as a person and where I wanted to be.  I found the strength over 2012 to truly look into myself and discover who I am and what a gay and HIV positive life will look like in the future.  I came to terms with everything I have gone through and what I expect to go through in the future.  I came to terms with everything I have gone through and what I expect to go through in the future.  You see I know that life in general is not easy so I really do not expect it to be a cakewalk being gay and poz.

For the many people that truly know me hey know that I am not an outspoken about my religious views; however I will now tell you how I feel.  I feel like God gives each and every one of us a purpose in life.  He never places us into a battle in which we cannot overcome.  On January 26th, 2013 I made the decision after finding myself to come out publicly about my HIV status.  This decision to be honestly came from me being tired of hiding.  I was annoyed by people texting and asking me if I had AIDS and was going to die.  I felt so misunderstood and was simply ready to set the record straight.  With my action to come out of the closet again I knew that a reaction would take place and I was not far from the truth.  A few days after I received a phone call while I was at work and it was my mother.  After catching up she asked me about the blog and her and my dad alerting me that they were beginning to receive phone calls asking about my blog, YouTube, video and overall health.  SNAPPP, with me being all spontaneous and fast acting I forgot to give them the heads up.  They definitely were not happy with me.  I apologized and truly understood where they were coming from.  I did for a while felt very defeated.  Everything I do is with the intention of making myself happy but more importantly making my parents proud.  I felt like I had hit a wall and for the second time I considered dropping everything and disappearing again.  Talking with my camp (close friends who are truly there) they gave me the strength to stay focus and to remain in the fight.  I was reminded that there are always going to be haters out there and seeing that I took the step to make it public it is too late to try to hide.

With that said. It is a shame that family members have gone behind my back and to my parents to question them about something so sensitive.  Imagine how you would feel if your child was dealing with something and you were helpless and could not be super-mom/dad and save the day.  My parents deserve the parents of 2012 award for their strength to overcome so much negativity.  Although they have gotten over the hurdle it is still a very sensitive and emotionally raw subject. Please, come to the source if you have questions.  It boggles my mind why people think it was smart to call my parents.  If you ask me I think it was to start trouble. Be smart, if you have questions come to me because I will be more than willing to answer all your questions.  After giving it a day my parents and I are back on better terms and I told them that they did not have to tell anyone anything they did not feel comfortable talking about.  They know to give my number to any family member calling and direct them to come right to the source.

So far so good!  I have had so much support form the community and friends.  It feels so good to know that what I am doing is making a difference.  You have no idea how fulfilling it is to receive an email or Facebook message telling me how my video or blog posts are making a difference.  We all go through tough times but the most important thing is how we overcome the difficulties to learn, gain experience/miles, and grow.

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With Love,

Patrick+