October 19, 2016
by Alicia Diggs, PWN-USA Member; NC AIDS Action Network (NCAAN) Board Member
Where do I begin in even trying to describe the empowering, engaging and amazingly awesome women’s leadership summit held in Fort Walton Beach Florida from September 27-30, 2016?
There were over 250 women living with HIV from 30 states, Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands gathered in unity sharing a safe space where we were able to learn, share, laugh, cry and rejuvenate. We had the opportunity to participate in numerous workshops facilitated by women who are vivacious leaders. These workshops helped us to build our skills in leadership and learn about our current local, state and federal policy concerns that affect women living with HIV. We also developed a better understanding of social justice and human rights for women living with HIV while also having the opportunity to bond as a sisterhood and get to know one another on more intimate levels. I truly thank my NCAAN family for contributing and allowing me to have the opportunity to be a part of this unforgettable experience.
There were women who attended this summit that I have known for a very long time through social media and conference calls, but I finally got a chance to hug on them, love on them and share with them. It was truly an honor and a great experience to be surrounded by so much diversity from women who share the same passions of advocacy, prevention, rights and justice in our communities. Many of us were pushed out of our comfort zone so that we could be transparent, heal, and realize that while there may be many women with different stories; we all share similar challenges in our lives.
I was a part of the 2016 Speak Up! Summit Planning Committee along with 20 other women and I had the opportunity to welcome all of the ladies who were in attendance. I had no idea that I would be asked to welcome the group, but as a leader you have to always be ready to lead. It was truly an honor as a first time attendee and a part of the Summit Planning Committee to take on that responsibility, I am truly grateful. Some of the workshop topics included: Standing Up to Stigma in Your Community, Criminalization as it Impacts People Living with HIV, Sex Workers, People of Trans Experience and People Who Use Drugs, HIV & Aging Adult Women, and Intergenerational Leadership.
Those are just a few of the very powerful sessions that we had the opportunity to experience over four days. There were not just workshops, but we also had film screening nights and fun nights, which consisted of arts & crafts, games, dancing and singing. Not to mention the great meals we had for breakfast lunch and dinner.
Many of the workshops impacted me, but I was really intrigued by the workshop on intergenerational leadership, which involved women living with HIV over the age of 40 and women living with HIV who were under the age of 40. This particular session truly opened my eyes more to the younger generation of leaders who are living with HIV and working on carrying the torch after the older generation rests. Creating a path for younger generations to take on leadership roles and continue to carry the torch is a passion of mine. It is truly up to us to lead our future leaders with love, acceptance and encouragement. It is important to trust the younger leaders and allow them to grow, learn and even make mistakes. The older generation of leaders have to build relationships with the younger generation of leaders, create safe spaces for them to open up and grow, have patience with them, teach them, listen to them, allow them to share their ideas and experiences which can be beneficial to contributing to change.
This summit was a great experience, which empowered me to take the information that I received out into all communities that I come into contact with, so that I can be as a vessel to help teach and encourage others to take back their power against stigma and criminalization. If you have not had the opportunity as a woman living with HIV to experience this bonding experience, or you would like to know more about being a leader/advocate in your community, then please contact PWN-USA or North Carolina AIDS Action Network (NCAAN) by going to the website for more information.