Messages From the Co-Chairs
Marlena Richardson was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where she lived for 38 years before deciding it was time for a change of scenery and weather and moved to Orangeburg, South Carolina, in June 2000. A year and a half later Marlena was diagnosed with HIV, in December 2001. After several years of severe depression due to stigma, Marlena stepped out on faith and began on a long journey of self-acceptance by getting educated about the disease of HIV. On her journey she began to meet and bond with hundreds of other strong, courageous HIV-positive women who were advocating for their human rights. In 2006 Marlena completed her first of many Peer Advocacy trainings called The Lotus Project.
Marlena has gone on to complete Common Threads, where she was certified in storytelling through her family tree and timeline. Marlena is certified in several healthy relationship trainings thru PALSS (Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services) and HopeHealth Edisto. Marlena has completed countless other certifications in the past nine years and continues to train and educate others about HIV/AIDS as well as HPV-related head, neck, and throat cancers.
Marlena has been an active voting member of the Community Action Board (CAB) USC since 2011. She is also an active voting member of Minority Aids Council of Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun Counties (MAC). Marlena is the Vice President of A Family Affair HIV/AIDS Ministry where a support group Beyond the Diagnosis is provided for positive men and women. In 2009 Marlena became a member of Proactive, Optimistic Sisters In Touch, Involved, Validated, and Empowered: P.O.S.I.T.I.V.E. Voices (PV), founded in 2008 by SCHAC (South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council). PV is a health advocacy network for positive women to have more of a voice in HIV planning and advocacy across the state.
After several years of being an active member of PWN-USA, helping to keep our mission of preparing and involving women living with HIV, including transgender women, in all levels of policy and decision-making to improve the quality of women’s lives, she is now serving as the Co-Chair of PWN-USA-SC.
Contact Marlena: firstname.lastname@example.org; Cell: 803-707-1488; Facebook: Marlena Reich Richardson
Arlene Rustin was born in New York on November 7, 1954. At the age of 14, she moved to South Carolina to complete her education. Her last year of high school, she became the first black homecoming queen. What a delight for her family. After graduating from high school she went to New York and worked at McDonald’s for a year. The money was good, but her life working with burgers didn’t seem to make ends meet; so she steered her life in a different direction.
She got her head on right and then went to Durham College and majored in Business Administration, played basketball, received multiple scholarships, advocated for cancer research, and pledged Gamma Sigma Sigma. She completed college in 1975 with an Associate Degree. She moved back to New York and got a fantastic job with Bankers Trust. She started as a teller than moved to data input, ops specialist, and then assistant treasurer. She stayed with Bankers Trust for 23 years. After her first year at Bankers Trust, she decided she needed another change so she signed up to the United States National Guard, again the money looked rough she wanted more; so she tested, passed and went into the Empire State Academy for a year. She worked with the United States National guard for 20 years and retired as a captain.
She moved back to South Carolina after her father passed and her mother fell and broke her hip. The culture and changes took a toll on her. As time moved on, her thinking cap came on. She started her life in South Carolina looking for that job to make her feel whole. She got a job at Wachovia, which lasted for 6 months, because her mother had gotten sick. She was too ashamed to explain her condition (Alzheimer’s) to upper management.
As time moved on she got sick with a bad cold that wouldn’t go away. Yes, then she was then told that she had tested positive for HIV. Her count was 6, and her family was told that this was the end. After being taken care of and realizing this was not the end, but only the beginning, she regained her strength. She met Stephanie Williams and Karen Bates, who made her feel whole again. Death was not on the menu. She began taking better care of herself and became active into a couple of organizations; Campaign to End AIDS, Family Affair, Task Force, Minority AIDS, Export, and South Carolina State University. As time went on her car was totaled so transportation became a problem, so she pulled out of everything. She still didn’t have transportation, but decided she must do something. Reading the newspaper can make you want to get up, she stated to herself “let’s make some noise and get things done.”