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A Love Letter to Black People on National Black HIV Awareness Day

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Dear Black people,

How are you? As always, I hope you are thriving and prosperous. I am writing this letter to remind you of your brilliance. I constantly stand in awe of your light, and in gratitude for your existence. I love and appreciate you, and your happiness and success mean the world to me.

Here we are in February, a time where we acknowledge the accomplishments of Black people in America. Amid this time, I also never forget that our history and excellence cannot be contained to a single month. From the moment our ancestors were stolen from their homes, and the first ships arrived on this land, we literally have contributed to every aspect of American life. That is important because we live in world that never intended for us to succeed and often denies our accomplishments and contributions. Yet here we are, continuing to progress.

February is also the time that we acknowledge the impact that HIV has on Black communities. February 7 is National Black HIV Awareness Day. As the name states, it is an opportunity to raise awareness, take action, and reflect on our progress. And that begs the question, what does progress look like for Black people?

In 2020, the world watched the horrors of injustice with multiple unarmed Black people being killed by police. As a result, individuals and businesses committed to do better. There was more awareness and conversations being had about systemic racism than I have ever seen. There was even a conviction for George Floyd’s murder.

On the other side of that, there has been a recent strong resistance to white children having to learn the history of racism, yet not nearly enough resistance around Black children experiencing it. Health disparities continue to allow COVID-19 to disproportionately impact Black communities. And in 2021, we’ve seen the most murders of Black trans people in recorded history.

Why do I bring these challenges up? Because all these things exist around us and are a part of what impedes our progress and continues to fuel HIV. Systemic oppression is part of the foundation of America and HIV is just a symptom of that. HIV is more than a health issue, it is a social justice issue and it thrives in racism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism. When we don’t address these challenges, we don’t address HIV. When we allow injustice, we allow HIV. When we ignore inequities in health care, we ignore HIV. And when we don’t show up for all Black people, we can’t show up to end HIV.

Social injustice and division will consistently attempt to impede our progress as a community and leave us stifled. But remember, slavery attempted to impede our progress, and we are still here. Jim Crow attempted to impede our progress, and we are still here. Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has attempted to impede our progress, and we are still here. HIV continues to attempt to impede our progress, and we are still here. No matter the obstacle, Black people always overcome. Resiliency is in our DNA. There was no choice for it not to be. And even that is an injustice, right? Black folks shouldn’t have to be resilient all the time, yet still, here we are.

Black people I love you. I love your brilliance, your confidence, your culture, your swag. I love the way you work; I love the way you play. I love the way you celebrate. I love the way you mourn. When one of us triumphs, we all feel the joy. When one of us struggles, we all feel the pain. It’s a collective experience that cannot be denied.

As a community we educate, advocate, organize, and collaborate. We recognize the strength in our unity. And we must use that to eliminate stigma around Blackness, queerness, and HIV. Be bold and proud of who you are; it can change your life and those around you. Black people, we will keep fighting, we will keep rising, we will keep overcoming. You are luminous, you are powerful, you are a gift. Don’t ever stop believing that.

Love, Ashley

Ashley Innes is a writer and HIV advocate. Follow her on Twitter @Ash_Innes.

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