by Jessica Carreras
When the acronyms “HIV” and “AIDS” are brought up, certain words come to mind: Men. Gay. Black. Africa. Addict. One word that is not often heard in association with HIV? Women.
And yet, they are part of the HIV positive demographic as well.
In Michigan alone, it is estimated that over 4,000 women live with HIV. Some of them are born with it. Others get it from intravenous drug use, or from their husband or lover. But however they get it, the Michigan Women and AIDS Committee celebrated their continued care and the search for a cure at their first annual Red Ribbon Awards Luncheon on Friday, April 25 at Detroit’s Northwest Activities Center.
There, while attendees munched on a buffet lunch, seven women were honored for their exceptional work in the areas of AIDS testing, prevention, education and support.
After a moment of silence for the victims of HIV/AIDS, Fox 2 anchor and radio personality Charles Pugh took to the podium as the afternoon’s master of ceremonies. “Thank you each and every one of you,” he told the audience of over 100 for their support of HIV awareness. “This is a fight we cannot afford to lose.”
Pugh spoke of the need for more candid conversation between lovers, friends and families about HIV/AIDS. “There are very important conversations that we avoid having out of fear,” he stressed. “We need to have some very important conversations today.”
Several area leaders were present who spoke of honoring women in the fight against HIV. “We’re really who this disease is about,” said Dr. Calvin Trent, general manager of the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, of the black community. “In order to conquer this disease in our community, we must have women at our backs.”
Trent was joined by Debra L. Szwejda of the Michigan Department of Community Health, Andrea Roberson of the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness and Barbara Jean Johnson of the Michigan Women and AIDS Committee and director of community affairs at the Governor’s office.
Of the women present, several were honored for their work with HIV/AIDS in Michigan, and were presented with awards at the luncheon. They included women from non-profit organizations, city and county health departments and community activists. Representing AIDS Partnership Michigan were Isabel Cuevas, rapid testing coordinator, and Executive Director Barbara Murray. Health Officer of the Wayne County Health Department Loretta V. Davis and Dr. Renee McCoy, who heads up the HIV/AIDS programs at the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion were also honored. Melissa Reznar, an epidemiology specialist of the Michigan Department of Community Health, Teresa Roscoe, executive director of Health Emergency Lifeline Programs and Paula Sirls, who manages Gospel Against AIDS, were the last three women who were honored.
“It feels really good to look back on my life and say that I wouldn’t change a thing,” said honoree Davis of her work against HIV/AIDS.
The awarding was punctuated by poetry, music and dance performances. Kimbery Herbert recited the Maya Angelou poem “Phenomenal Women,” while Carolyn King sang and Sundra Kollie danced in between award presentations.
The luncheon also included the unveiling of the Joan Fields Memorial Scholarship, in honor of the late activist who founded the Detroit Women and AIDS Walk. Many of the award recipients believed that they felt the spirit of Fields at Friday’s luncheon and shared their hope that her work continues until HIV/AIDS are no longer in existence.
“This is 2008,” Pugh said. “This disease needs to be a thing of the past – soon.”
Though the focus of the day was on women and the black community, a popular mentality was acknowledged: the idea that all groups heavily affected by HIV/AIDS need to work together to secure funding, educate, help those in need and, ultimately, find a cure.