June 21, 2016
by Susan Mull
We went to the White House in 2010! Who knew I would have this story to tell? We had to present our IDs to get through the gate and then magic happened! We were in Washington, D.C., because of AIDSWatch, but there was a simultaneous convening of a meeting to formulate the first National HIV and AIDS Strategy! We were allowed to walk up to the microphone and speak about what should be part of that national strategy. What does a school teacher do? She (meaning me) knows the lives of teenagers have to be saved, so my point was to make sure that committee heard me talk about condoms loud and clear! Condoms save lives! These condoms need to be in our high schools! We intend to end AIDS and that will not happen if we don’t bring powerful, authentic truth and condoms to high schools and middle schools.
I was diagnosed in 1993, and was fortunate enough to become quickly involved in support groups like WISDOM, and the NJ Women and AIDS Network, and soon I was writing and meeting people who were part of the WE The People organization, the newsletter/newspaper that kept us all up to date on everything from clinical trials to major conferences. Soon I found the organization Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases (WORLD) in Oakland and headed west for my 50th birthday at a WORLD retreat. Sisters know how to empower each other, right? If you know about the book Half The Sky, well, you probably agree with me that we, as women, hold up way more than half the sky!
I learned to use my voice, my ability to take words and craft, through poetry, my story, and I realized that I was this healthy, intrepid, and fearless for a reason! I started going to more conferences, starting with the International Conference on AIDS in 1996, and there were other retreats that helped us focus on self-care. Soon I started hearing about, not WORLD, but PWN, and goddesses like Naina Devi, and Waheedah Shabazz-El, and Vanessa Johnson, and Barb Cardell and Sonia Rastogi, and all I could think was: We are going to be so positive and powerful that, we, the women, we are going to end AIDS!
We all got together in Washington, D.C., in 2012 because the International Conference on AIDS was there; instead of feeling new, I felt like I had walked into a family reunion! You know what I’m talking about, right? “It’s a family reunion! It’s a family reunion!” I love the joy in that song! Beyond joy, I found so much wisdom in the PWN room I entered that day! We have all evolved so much; we have led workshops, we have represented PWN on boards of other organizations, some of us have gone back to graduate school again, but all of us have become human rights activists. We have demanded justice for transgender women, for sex workers, we have fought hard for reproductive justice, we have demanded the end to the bullying of our LGBTQIA youth, and we have empowered each other by telling our own stories.
The National HIV and AIDS Strategy has been rewritten, yet we still have so much work to do. There are churches that are still silent, which means they must be complicit with all the discrimination that is directed toward people living with HIV and AIDS. At this writing, I find myself in my second year of seminary, not to be a pastor, not because I’m holy, but because I’m really good with interfaith work, and I’m really good with racial justice work, and I’m vibrant, and, yes, I’m a piece of work! Can I hear an Amen? I hope to make a bigger impact, year after year, as I interact with people of all religions, and hopefully we’ll open up the hearts of those who have not been our allies!
I have met role models in PWN; I feel as though I have friends in almost every state, and some places around the world! The leadership of PWN demands integrity of all of us, and I’m so inspired by the board of PWN and PWNers I continue to meet everywhere! How did eight years fly by? I feel connected to all of you right now! I don’t want to end this and say Happy Birthday! I want to say, “I love you all, I miss you, you give me strength and courage, and if excellence in leadership and excellence in an organization has a paradigm that other organizations should emulate, well PWN is it!”
Now I’m in tears! PWN makes no apologies for challenging any status quo that has to be brought down; PWN has shown the world what chutzpah is; PWN is fearless, undaunted, equipped with the compassionate intelligence offered up on a daily basis by leadership and members!
To wax grammatically incorrect, I love me some PWN sisters! We will end AIDS! One more reminder (I always say this): There is no proxy for you, there is no proxy for me! Happy, jubilant, wonderful birthday PWN!