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Meet Two Amazing Activists Speaking Up About Black Women and HIV

Meet Two Amazing Activists Speaking Up About Black Women and HIV

<p>Meet Two Amazing Activists Speaking Up About Black Women and HIV</p>


These busy moms and community organizers shine a light on issues facing Black women living with HIV in a documentary co-produced by Sheryl Lee Ralph.

One of the least talked about groups of people affected by HIV is cisgender women — particularly women of color, who are, ironically, the most affected group among cis women. But recently a big step forward was made in sharing the stories of Black women affected by HIV, thanks to the award-winning documentary Unexpected by Zeberiah Newman and co-produced by Abbott Elementary star Sheryl Lee Ralph.

We had the pleasure of speaking with the Emmy-winning Ralph about Unexpected last December, as she and Newman prepared to promote it during this year’s film festival circuit.

“I was so sick and tired of the silence around Black people and Hispanic people [and their] stories not being told, names not included in things like the [AIDS] Quilt,” said Ralph, who’s been advocating for HIV causes since the beginning of her four-decade long career. “I was just like, Oh no, not on my watch. I know better, so let me do better.”

Now, less than a year later, the film has received much critical acclaim and accolades, including an Impact Docs! Award of Excellence. The documentary was also recently part of the Essence Film Festival in New Orleans, which held an accompanying panel discussion with the film’s stars and filmmakers.

This time, we got a chance to catch up with the main two subjects of Unexpected, Masonia Traylor and Ciarra “Ci Ci” Covin — two amazing, inspiring women whose stories will change many folks’ perceptions about Black women and HIV.

“Oh, the irony,” says Covin with a laugh when asked how she came to be involved in the project. “It was so…unexpected. I just happened to be in Atlanta and there was somebody that was requesting stories of women that were living with HIV. But I don’t live in the South, I was diagnosed in the South.”

Both Covin and Traylor have worked in the realm of HIV advocacy and activism for several years now — and both are incredibly busy working moms.

Ciarra 'Ci Ci' Covin (left) and Masonia Traylor (right) enjoy a laugh with filmmaker Zeberiah Newman (center) during a rare break from their work and busy lives.

Traylor, a mother of two, is the CEO and founder of the nonprofit Lady BurgAndy, which services women and youth impacted by HIV. While her additional accomplishments and organizations she’s worked with are too numerous to list, Traylor also sits on the Global Community Advisory Board for The Well Project, is part of the Executive Health Committee for the National Council for Negro Women, and is 2nd vice-chair of the Metropolitan Atlanta HIV Health Services Planning Council. She also runs a private social media support group for women living with HIV.

In addition to caring for her two children and father, who recently suffered a stroke, and working towards a doctorate in human services, Covin works as program manager at The Well Project, a nonprofit that serves women and girls living with HIV across the gender spectrum. “And within that work, I have been really pulled to the breast and chest feeding and HIV work that is happening now.”

Covin also maintains a blog called Healing Is Voluntary, which she created to “inspire people to rebuild their lives after trauma” through daily positive affirmations, intimate storytelling sessions, and feel-good apparel.

The film shines a light on the particular problems of those affected by HIV in the rural South — such as lack of access to testing, treatment, care, and education, as well as housing and transportation issues — which is especially why Covin wanted to share her story.

“I was born in Philly and that’s where I contracted the virus, and then was diagnosed in the rural South,” Covin explains. “I went to the University of Georgia…. And the access to care down there, it was a lot different than what I’ve experienced here in the north.”

Traylor also discussed her reasons for wanting to be a part of the documentary. “I believe that with HIV…I learned people have way more compassion towards other illnesses,” she says. “When a woman is pregnant with HIV, you garner compassion…. But right after she gives birth to that baby — where’s the care for the mom?”

“Going through Ci Ci’s pregnancy,” adds Traylor, “it just brought back a lot of emotions — but it felt really, really good to be there for her in ways in which I wish other people could have been there for me…. I think that every woman deserves not only what Ci Ci had, but even more, I wish there was more we could have done for Ci Ci, particularly right after she gave birth. And for this documentary, I think it just scratches the surface just a little bit of what the need truly is.”

On putting her personal story out there in such a public way, Covin says she didn’t hesitate to do so. “It was not hard…. It was phenomenal for people who had seen the film, that they might not have otherwise gotten the information that they got it. That’s the true definition of community outreach, we’re bringing that information to them. That feels great.”

“For me it doesn’t feel brave, but for others it’s perceived as a brave space to be able to stand firmly in your truth,” Covin adds. “For me, that happens to be HIV and how that empowers, inspires, and motivates other folks. I’m thankful that we’ve got a platform to be able to share these stories, because…they’re not often heard of. So you got that woman that’s newly diagnosed, maybe pregnant, who doesn’t think that she can live and give birth to a negative baby, but now she can see herself doing it.”

Poster image by Dean Linn

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