By Luvon Roberson
It’s a cloudy kind of day, with a quick rain shower and then a steady light drizzle. But, who knows what this Saturday, May 4th may yet bring? The sun might come out, shining brightly over the Iris House Health Fair. Holding that cheering hope like an umbrella, I head out to 125th Street and the Adam Clayton Powell plaza, at the Harlem State Office Building. So begins my story about the 8th Annual Iris House Summit: Women as the Face of AIDS.
That’s not quite true. I need to start the story at the beginning. My journey with Iris House begins in 2003, when I first volunteered my counsel in communications and public relations to the executive director. I’d met a Board member at a fundraiser associated with the United Nations, I believe. I then served on the Board of Directors myself. Since then, I’ve made certain – in the midst of a busy & full life – to keep in touch with Iris House and Ingrid Floyd, its dynamic young Executive Director. Even in the ebb & flow of life’s rhythms, I always follow the pathways & tributaries of Iris House as it champions women & families affected by HIV/AIDS. Over the years, I’ve made small financial and clothing donations, as well as used my PR expertise to generate stories about Iris House featured in Newsday and New York Daily News, among other media outlets.
I also attended the first annual Iris House Summit. What an innovation! What a shining achievement that Iris House has sustained the Summit and convened the 8th Annual Summit on a sunny Monday, May 6th, at the same venue as the first Summit, namely, the New York Academy of Medicine! I’m also pleased that I was able to facilitate a breakout session in a workshop at the Academy on “Using Media: How to Tell Your HIV/AIDS Story & Position Your Brand in 2013-2014.” The workshop included a raffle draw, providing the winner a FREE opportunity to work with me on his/her organization’s PR plan so as to tell the organization’s HIV/AIDS story and for me to introduce the winner to a health journalist. The workshop participant who won the raffle draw is a member/leader of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority/Tau Omega chapter here in New York City. I hope to connect with the winner and report our PR strategies via Iris House blog and/or other communications, in September 2013. Stay tuned for that story!
Indeed, telling your HIV/AIDS story is even more critical in today’s economy – as funding continues to be cut at an alarming rate. With ever-shrinking funding resources, your HIV/AIDS story is among your most powerful assets. Do you know that? If so, are you making use of this powerful asset in your fundraising or grant-writing? As Iris House celebrates its 20thAnniversary, I envision in the years ahead wonder-filled stories about its life-transforming effect on thousands of women & families affected by HIV/AIDS across this city and nation.
As I sat among the hundreds of people who packed the New York Academy of Medicine auditorium for Sean Strub’s presentation on “HIV Criminalization: Voices of Positive Women,” I was spellbound. Mr. Strub’s deeply informed advocacy includes not only a staggering range of medical & statistical facts about HIV/AIDS, but also a heart-wrenching personal & longtime devotion to fighting for the rights of people with & affected by HIV/AIDS. He showed a brief video of people who were incarcerated, simply because they are HIV/AIDS positive. And, their voices spoke directly to the hearts of every single person in that large New York Academy of Medicine forum – LGBT or straight and of whatever ethnicity or economic background. Then, he introduced Tiffany Moore.
This petite, blonde, vibrant yet soft-spoken Southern woman quietly began to share her story. It would be a painful story to tell anywhere, but I suspect especially so on a large stage, in front of hundreds of strangers. Tiffany Moore’s story begins with loss, violence, substance abuse, HIV-infection, suffering, and yes, ultimately concludes with her story of restoration and triumph. As Ms. Moore told her story, I began to weep. So did many women & men. As an African-American woman, I know the story of rejection & suffering, simply because I am African-American. I realized in that moment: While I’m not gay and I’m not HIV/AIDS infected, I am indeed affectedby HIV/AIDS. The stories, the voices compelled me to cry out in anguish and pain. As I fumbled with such public emotional display (& for a tissue), an Iris House staffer leaned forward and, though total strangers, we embraced.
In telling our stories, our humanity is made visible for all to see — & be touched. My work as a communications/PR professional focuses on exactly that: Helping organizations to find their voice and helping them to strategize on how to tell their story. We can touch others. We can win the dollars needed to keep fighting for & researching & educating about HIV/AIDS. We can. Happy 20th Anniversary to you, Iris House!