This past September, Kneeshe Parkinson served on the host committee for the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA 2018) in Orlando, Fla. — a high point this year. The woman who once couldn’t conceive she’d even survive is now thriving.
At 40-years-old, Parkinson has been in the HIV trenches for half her life and describes herself as a “bad-ass leader.” As a long-term survivor of 21 years, she’s earned many accolades. Her career began in the late ‘90s when she joined Washington University School of Medicine’s Project ARK. An HIV specialist and a certified health coach, she helps educate the St. Louis community about HIV, hepatitis C, addiction, harm reduction, treatment adherence, and addressing stigma. She is on a steering committee for ViiV Healthcare and is working with the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Center for Quality Improvement and Innovation (CQII).
Parkinson, a Saint Louis native is a recipient of a Positive Women Network-USA policy fellowship, which teaches participants how to advocate for policy change; and serves as the PWN state lead for Missouri. She has also been inducted into the 2020 Leading Women’s Society by SisterLove, an organization dedicated to eradicating “the impact of HIV and sexual and reproductive oppressions upon all women.”
Parkinson is a passionate advocate for pregnant women with HIV. She says some people’s response is always, “Why take the risk?” about HIV-positive women carrying and birthing children. The question belies the importance that children (and experiencing pregnancy) play for many women — and ignores the modern medical reality that has been able to safely prevent vertical transmission for decades. “I remember back in the 2000s I had an opportunity to share my story about being a woman who is pregnant and living with HIV,” she recalls of her own personal experience. “Oh, the controversy!” she laughs.
Parkinson believes the biggest challenge facing people living with HIV is not being able to be their true selves. “For me, this was a challenge early on in my diagnosis,” she remembers. But Parkinson reached out to a sibling for help. “My sister and I made a list of people we most felt comfortable with sharing, who would be a support system for not just me but the entire family.”
“All my mother spread is love and education,” says Parkinson, some 20 years later, before adding, “Learn your status.”