Friday, December 26, 2008

Who feels it knows it

I was recently on a panel about HIV and got asked a tough question about empowerment. The question was: “What does empowerment mean to you? What does it look like?” I gave an answer about jobs and economic security because those were the issues coming up over and over again in my work in Philadelphia. But I left the panel very unsatisfied with my response. My dissatisfaction was less at my ability to respond than at the limited constructs we have to understand the true meaning of empowerment.

Empowerment is an expansive topic. There is a totality about the phenomenon that is bigger than what any individual can see or say. That’s why it’s hard to explain. To understand empowerment we have to think collectively for the idea to fit in our world. I think ultimately it’s about freedom and having whatever you need to be free. In my case, my friends and family are critical.

An important aspect of staying free are supportive relationships. I just got a video from a kindred soul that prompted this blog entry. People can help keep you free. So part of what empowerment looks like to me is a web of nurturing relationships. Relationships that find you at the right time and at the right place. A lot of people don’t have this web. I would be lost without mine.

On that note, I have attached the video that inspired the lesson. Not surprisingly it is none other than Nina Simone. Enjoy and stay free…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

99.5 WBAI Pacifica Interview

Check out the link to the Women: Body and Soul interview from today by clicking here. I talked about All of Us, new HIV prevention messages and more. Thank you to the host, Nathalie Thandiwe, for inviting me.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Question about Lecture 1

We just got a comment on the TruthAIDS site regarding video lecture #1 and I wanted to share my answer back to the following comment left by Jessica:

QUESTION: " I just wanted to share with you the experience i have had learning about
truthaids and show support in this movement to a more logical and realistic way
of combating STD's.... I really think that this idea of connecting aids and
STD's with underlying issues of violence and injustice is a powerful one. Along
with that, i am curious if whether or not this same concept could be applied to
other unsafe practices we (women, or even human beings) participate in that lead
to disease and destruction. I am wondering if the organization has extended
any of it's concepts to other STD'd that are lifelong such as HSV or HPV. Along
with that, the ideas of addiction and dependance that spawn from histories of

ANSWER: HIV is the first STD we have tackled and our approach to teaching about it as a justice issue with the general public is what we are learning all about. The connections between social justice and health apply to many issues, not just HIV. Creating a safe environment where peace is the norm, instead of violence would make us all healthier.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The best things in life happen COLLECTIVELY

Happiness is a collective phenomenon. A new study came out showing that happiness is important to your health! This connection is all about the positive effects of people in your lives. Yet another reason why social context matters to your health. So keep grouchy people away!

For a review of the study please click here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


The responses from the Showtime airing of All of Us across the country have been so awesome! I have no words to express the intensity of the email messages I have been receiving from young, old, men, and women. Thank you so much for the encouragement, support, blessings, and well wishes.

Fundamentally, the HIV epidemic is about the connection between health and human rights as well as the obligation we all have to serve. As the saying goes, "start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can." For all of you who never had a connection to HIV and are now inspired to be part of the movement, jump in. Here are some suggestions:

1) Call a local AIDS service organization in your neighborhood and get involved.
2) Register at and stay connected to us by taking our free online classes.
3) Get HIV tested and encourage a friend to do the same.
4) Try using a female condom if you never have. Practice makes perfect.
5) Hold a truth circle!

And just in case you need some more inspiration... check out MLK below:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thank you SisterLove Inc.

Chevelle and I spent World AIDS Day with SisterLove Inc. in Atlanta and were received with open arms. Our visit started out with a live radio interview with Dazon Dixon-Diallo on WRFG for their World AIDS Day programming and ended in an awards ceremony at the Shrine of the Black Madonna. We would especially like to thank the "hostess with the mostest" Debra Mlambo for housing us, feeding us, and catering to our every need. The night was beautiful. Thank you for creating such a tender and safe space for us to honestly share our thoughts and experiences on filming All of Us. It was also an honor to meet Dr. Biggers, an Atlanta-based physician/advocate who has devoted her career to HIV/AIDS. I have no doubt that women supporting women can change the world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

SisterSong National Membership meeting

SisterSong National Membership meeting occurred over the weekend and I spoke on the panel about HIV as a reproductive justice issue. SisterSong is the longest standing Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective that is building a movement around reproductive justice. Daxon Dixon Diallo of Sister Love Inc. led the session and my co-panelists included Coco Jervis, Policy Director for CHAMP as well as Marsha Jones and LaCisha Crear of the Afiya Center.

The reproductive justice framework is an important integrated lense that makes it impossible to talk about empowerment of communities in isolation from their social networks. This is an important principle when considering women's health as well as the health of urban populations. Too often, discussions of risk are limited to personal responsibility messaging that completes misses the importance of the social context. Reproductive justice is an important frame for avoiding this pitfall.

My contribution on the panel was to report the outcomes of the Women of Color United meeting in Mexico City at the International AIDS Conference on behalf of Jacqui Patterson. The women in the session were energized by the dialogue concerning transnational solidarity and wanted to know how to advance the six step solidarity plan concerning the intersection of violence against women and HIV/AIDS. After the session many came up to me to try and strategize the ways in which they could support.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Washington D.C. Outreach

Dr. Mehret and Chevelle took it to Washington, D.C. to spread the truth about what they learned in the South Bronx regarding HIV prevention, women, and filming All of Us.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

University of Orange 2008 Course Announcement

God Speaks: Philadelphia Voices Against Violence

TruthAIDS has teamed up with Philadelphia-based filmmaker Makia Harper to develop a community education training guide for her film God Speaks: Philadelphia Voices Against Violence. Harper is an independent writer and filmmaker that produced/directed a one hour length documentary in less than one year! Her focus on solutions against violence that are up and running in Philadelphia present interesting public health solutions. We are honored to be working with Makia. Her film instructs defeating violence will take a village and we are excited to help build upon her efforts.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rolling: A shining example of visual medical advocacy

Physician filmmakers are blazing a trail for visual medical advocacy and Dr. Gretchen Berland is at the forefront.

She spoke at University of Pennsylvania as part of a Roundtable on Visual Legal Advocacy and talked about her film Rolling. Rolling is a 71 minute documentary about patient-centered perspectives on wheelchair use that is creating a grass roots movement around issues of the disabled across the country.

Dr. Berland had a former career in TV production and insider knowledge about the traditional documentary-making process. In her former life she was a producer for MacNeil/Lehrer and NOVA. She entered medicine with the intent of putting her TV career behind her but the training revealed many misconceived notions about patients that slowly brought the need to document patient-centered perspectives.

Visuals are a powerful tool for accountability and with this in mind she gave cameras to the patients and empowered them to tell their own stories. In her documentary Rolling, the audience gets an unusually intimate perspective on what it means to be disabled. Dr. Berland not only gave editorial control to her patients but actually partook in an iterative editing process that involved them every step of the way over a two year period. Now that's commitment!

Dr. Berland recently spoke at a Roundtable on Visual Legal Advocacy at the University of Pennsylvania where she shared her thoughts and challenges in making the film. "The more control you give to the people you involve, the less of an issue it is," said Dr. Berland.

Dr. Berland is a shining example for what TruthAIDS hopes to do in teaching the public about health, and human rights. Her film aired on PBS this year and is available for free online at: ROLLING

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"The website is bigger than me"

Tiberah Teshai recently wrote an article about Dr. Mehret and TruthAIDS for an Ethiopian on-line magazine. Writing the article was a process that shed some light:
"Before I even wrote the article, I had to stop and think about it for days. Where to to format it....there was a lot of information that people needed to know! After I read Dr. Mehret's responses, I felt something I never felt before. That's when it hit me that the website is bigger than me." -- Tiberah Teshai

That 'bigger than me' moment is how the personal becomes political. In that moment, all of our stories connect and remind us that a collective consciousness exists. The internet is a perfect platform for allowing the lessons that flow from this understanding to take shape and affect change.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Social change = No more business as usual!

The economic meltdown on wall street is proof positive that unchecked greed and exploitation has a limit. The paradigm of "business as usual" has ended.

A recent article entitled "The politics of women and leadership" in the San Diego Tribune by Kavita Ramdas, CEO of the Global Fund for Women, problematizes the paradigm within the context of women's worldwide increasing involvement in social change. "As president of the world's largest women's fund that has quadrupled in size over the past eight years, I've witnessed firsthand how women worldwide are choosing to invest in social change," Ramdas writes.

Ramdas continues to state that women's involvement in social change comes with the obligation of making sure it is not done using business as usual principles:

"The daunting scale of world problems, from fast-moving health epidemics and climate change, to food insecurities and the current collapse of the global financial system, require major structural changes for their solution. It is not enough for women to aspire to have the same rights and access to power as men. Instead of simply demanding a place at the table, women must have the courage and imagination to chart a wholly different way of organizing economic and political systems grounded in principles of egalitarianism, human rights and ecological sustainability. "

TruthAIDS is hoping to help chart this different way by keeping equity, dignity, and respect central to all projects, and using solidarity as the framework for all partnerships. It will require a lot unlearning, but the time has come for the tough discussions and we are hopeful that higher ground lies ahead.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stripped: Tripple Consciousness

During the process of writing "Stripped" (which is a fictional one woman show based on the real life experiences of Dr. Mehret Mandefro), I was able to translate the powerful relationship between a doctor and two of her patients in the spirit of sisterhood. Although the doctor herself was not infected with HIV, her unrelenting quest to heal her patients became a very conflicting mental struggle. As she was searching to understand the voice of her patients, she was haunted by their memory and cries that went unheard. The line "one voice, one choice, one body to reclaim" clearly expresses the idea of sisterhood. When one of us is suffering, we all are. If one of us is drying of a disease that can be prevented, we all need to evaluate how we can begin making a collective preventative effort to heal our wounds and consciously make healthier choices.

Doctor Mandefro's movent through TruthAids touches my heart to the core because she understands the issue of women's struggles and oppression as being a universal problem. However, there is hope!!! The hope begins in unleashing power of sisterhood. After my first conversation with Mehret, I was left with a feeling of power and hope. By simply sharing our experiences as women, we immediately developed a common bond and sisterly connection. Half of the comfort came from knowing that we weren't alone in our desire to heal ourselves and each other. Sisterhood is contagious! As women, we all share the same spirit of nurturing, love, and strength. By sharing our stories of pain and triumph, our tears turn into laughter and begin to water the garden of healing and restoration!! Sisterhood already exists we just have to reach out and grab it, hug it and listen to it with our hearts!

It is an honor to be apart of the TruthAids movement. I look foward to using the arts as a way to tell the truth about women's struggles and the power of truth, love and sisterhood!!! God Bless!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

TruthAIDS Salutes 41 Million Strong Campaign

TruthAIDS is part of the Women of Color United (WOCU) advocacy coalition which started the 41 Million Strong Election Campaign. The following is WOCU's official statement for the campaign:

The pandemics of HIV & AIDS and Violence Against Women (VAW) affect women in the Global South at alarming rates and disproportionately affect women of color in the Global North. There is both the need and the opportunity during the US 2008 election cycle for a campaign that seeks to educate constituencies and candidates on the issues of VAW and HIV & AIDS.

Women of Color United (WOCU) is implementing the 41 Million Strong Campaign, a campaign that seeks to mobilize the 41 million women of color in the U.S. to vote in the 2008 elections and to advocate for policies on behalf of women affected by VAW and HIV & AIDS domestically and worldwide. WOCU is a network of individuals and organizations that brings together grassroots constituencies of over 50,000 women voters nationwide. WOCU member organizations include survivors of violence, women living with HIV&AIDS, violence against women (VAW) survivor groups and service agencies, HIV & AIDS service and advocacy organizations, immigrant and diaspora groups, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, sororities, and other women’s groups.


Our goal is to increase involvement of women of color in the 2008 elections and to heighten public interest and engagement on Violence against Women (VAW) and HIV & AIDS in order to advocate for policies on behalf of women affected by these pandemics in the U.S. and globally.

Objectives/Intended Outcomes

The four main pillars of the campaign are as follows:

1. Increase voter registration among women of color
2. Increase voting among women of color
3. Increase awareness of the general public, and specifically among women of color, about two key issues that are at stake in the coming elections and that disproportionately affect women of color globally, VAW and HIV & AIDS.
4. Hold elected officials accountable to the commitments they have made around VAW and HIV & AIDS once the new administration is installed


1. Education of general public through direct action such as teach-ins and issue-based voter education at key events.
2. Dissemination of voter guide on candidates’ positions on VAW and HIV & AIDS for voter education purposes.
3. Dissemination of “I am a Woman of Color and I Vote” buttons, bumper stickers, pens, and T-shirts at various voter registration, Get-Out-The-Vote, and voter education activities.
4. Campaign-sponsored events including film series, speaker’s tours, and panel discussions where dynamics linking geopolitical inequity, feminist/womynist discourse, and racism in relation to VAW and HIV & AIDS can be explored and discussed.
5. Guidance on legal issues on allowable Election/Campaign work for 501(c)(3) organizations.
6. Toolkits for Women of Color United members and others to engage in voter registration, voter mobilization, and issue-based advocacy activities for the elections.
7. Monthly conference calls to provide technical assistance to Women of Color United members and others on voter registration, mobilization, and education efforts.
8. Web-based promotion of the activities of Women of Color United members and others participating in the 41 Million Strong Campaign.
9. Opportunities for dialogue and solidarity-building between domestic grassroots constituency groups and sisters in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa.
10. Presentation of policy platform/slate of demands on VAW, HIV&AIDS, and the driving factors of the pandemics, to Presidential, congressional, and local candidates
11. Attendance at various candidate appearances and events to obtain commitments from candidates on VAW and HIV & AIDS.
12. Engaging Congressional Caucuses of Color – Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander, Congressional Black Caucus, and other Caucuses such as Human Rights Caucus and Women’s Caucus.
13. Educating politicians and subsequently holding them accountable to the commitments they have made through meetings with key individuals on their staff, grassroots organizing and advocacy, candidate questionnaires and publication of voter guide, and dissemination of information through various media outl

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Nonconverted: The Village Voice All of Us Review

Telling the truth is tough business, and we you enter the public space, it gets tougher. The recent review in the Village Voice about All of Us asks:

"How effective are social-activist docs that don't entertain enough to captivate the non-converted? Brooklyn filmmaker Emily Abt's well-meaning, pro-feminist doc offers little new insight in seeking to raise awareness that black women are disproportionately at high risk for HIV infection (the leading cause of death among those 25 to 34)..." (Click here for full Village Voice review).

One thing about truth-telling is that there is often nothing entertaining about it. That is what makes it tough. The whole point of truth-telling is about the act of listening and creating safe spaces where people can listen to views that may be radically different from their own. This is what the Truth Circle is about. Creating a safe space where you can begin to have the converted and non-converted actually listen to one another in a respectful way without judgement, condemnation or attacks.

This is tough work. But sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. TruthAIDS is committed to communicating across all of these divides and taking the lessons learned to the next level. If we don't build on these lessons, we cannot connect the dots towards a movement

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Truth Circle at International AIDS Conference about transnational solidarity

Regional Dialogue for Women of Color in the Global North
Women’s Networking Zone—International AIDS Conference
August 4th, 9:30am-10:30am

(notes courtesy of Jacqui Patterson)

I. Introductions --Name, Country, Work in the Cause, Expectations/Motivations in coming to this session
II. Discussion Questions:
• Is it useful to have this space?
• What is your experience with race/ethnicity/indigeneity in relation to HIV&AIDS? How does race/ethnicity/indigeneity play out in your work? What is the relationship of these issues to advocacy? Does working on these issues present a unique challenge?
• What are the challenges across the groups, within and across diasporas?
• How do we expand transnational solidarity?

• 33 participants at peak.
• Countries represented: Mozambique, Guatemala, Uganda, Canada, South Africa, USA, Mexico, Swaziland.
• All female participants.


Country Specific Commentary
A. Canada: The government has identified key populations and countries where HIV is endemic. What about immigrant populations and populations that have been settled for generations? This is a whole other set of impacts, especially with women in those communities. These groups are always a bit separated, funding wise. African Caribbean Council on Education in Canada has done a documentary. Canada has a National AIDS Strategy. Since it is institutionalized, it will be difficult to change. There were no WLWHIV groups involved in its development.

B. Guatemala: In Guatemala, a sister shared how women, indigenous women, women living with HIV&AIDS, link with national women’s movements and have been working together for 2 years. Women are empowered by turning private/community space into national spaces. Groups have organized and created a women’s secretariat as part of the first ladies’ office. Policy was developed in a participatory way with women from cities. They developed a national plan for women’s opportunities. Laws against femicide and VAW were developed which provided opportunities to make complaints and seek justice. There was the problem of impunity. Women who speak indigenous/languages not same language as the judge. The court has to speak the native language of communities. Women’s groups have been successful in advocacy. They are now reviewing global fund proposals through a women’s rights lens.

C. South Africa: Issues in South Africa include poverty, WR, women’s security, rural areas, land ownership, income, home based care, etc. In South Africa, large HIV orgs and women with HIV orgs don’t do much on violence. Violence groups don’t do much on HIV. Women with HIV are not being heard/recognized. The discourse and decision making on HIV continues to be very male dominated. People Opposing Women’s Abuse has been invited to participate in strategic planning processes on women and HIV. POWA then sought funding to help them to do work with women with HIV. However, they then had to cut back funding on WLWHIV issues. People talk about what women should do and how they should do it, but they don’t provide money to support. In South Africa, one study found that 80% of women living with HIV are positive due to violence.

D. USA: Women in the US are 30% of the epidemic, but are not 30% of those making decisions about policies and funding. Globally our common experience as women of color is being ignored/trampled by imperialists. The network of positive women is seeking to facilitate dialogue and organize leadership and action. Nationally we are moving forward. A lot of women are making decisions. However, we have a long way to go. Having a National AIDS Strategy would create more government accountability that we don’t have currently, yet we demand the same from other countries. People of color are 35% of the US population country, but 50% of the epidemic. 83-85% of the women who are HIV positive are women of color. African Americans are the hardest hit. We as WOC in the US are not as accountable as we should be. We must examine how we can be accountable to our sisters in the rest of the world? How can we work with and support each other? US individualism is a barrier to collaboration. The US has an opportunity, but not everyone sees it as such.

More Unites Us than Divides Us
A. What is common between countries? People think there is too much difference, so lessons and models are not transferrable.

B. One challenge is division within groups, as there is the issue of internalized racism which causes us to hate ourselves and distracts groups from working together. La lucha es la misma.

C. As members of various Diasporas, we move around from different countries and work in different lands. We have a lot to learn from each other.

D. There is a range of structural/institutional issues differentially impacting women of color globally that are not examined by those leading the discourse on HIV&AIDS

E. On a global level, as well as nationally (within countries) women tend to be less empowered and don’t know what’s going on at a broader scale.

Towards a Joint Action Agenda
A. This sort of dialogue doesn’t happen a lot/enough.
B. We have to create a movement to support women which is linked nationally, regionally, and globally.
C. We need to examine how policy issues play out on the ground and how do we integrate gender into policy. We need to change how policy is done. Currently policies are disconnected. Policy must be inclusive of women to make them feel a part of it. We need to help women to engage. We need women to understand policy spaces or politicians won’t know because we won’t be there to tell them. How are we using policy to ensure the claiming of our rights. Are we using the policy spaces enough?
D. We need to figure out jointly how to create public policies for rights defense.
E. Women from the global north should go and see how women from the global south work on their NAS.
F. Immigrants in the US with ties to various countries need to the shift dialogue.
G. We should hold a workshop to unify strategies. We must make efforts to forge relationships and create alliance as sisters working together globally. If we work together we can achieve greater results.
H. We must begin communication and sharing amongst us. Cultures have many similarities and we need exchanges to understand how people function. There is so much in common in India, South Africa, etc. We as women of color look at research differently. We need to document what women are saying.

Next Steps:
• As a concrete next step, a participant issued an invitation to participants in the Latin American region to join the Women Won’t Wait Coalition which is active in Brazil, Guatemala, and Chile in particular.
• Notes from the Regional Dialogue will be shared with all, including a Spanish translation version.
• At the same time as the notes are shared, all will be invited to join the Women of Color United listserv for sharing and joint strategizing for moving forward with a common agenda