Teresa Sullivan is a force to be reckoned with. She works with Philadelphia FIGHT, a health services organization dedicated to “providing primary care, consumer education, research, and advocacy for people living with HIV/AIDS.” There she helps at-risk men and women in the Philadelphia area and educates underserviced minority communities. She’s paying it forward, educating those with whom she shares many experiences to become peer educators themselves.
“I am passionate about the intersections between HIV education and mass incarceration,” she explains. Especially, “for HIV-positive folks coming home; because I myself was incarcerated and living with HIV beyond prison walls.”
Sullivan recalls, “it was difficult trying to receive my HIV regimen without being stigmatized against by other incarcerated people—and sometimes the staff of the prison facility. It was challenging.”
She’s found that tapping that experience can help educate and empower others about HIV. Now Sullivan brings incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Philadelphians living with HIV into her FIGHT classroom for the organization’s TEACH Outside program.
The program combines adult education with HIV treatment and advocacy, and is intended to help those who are in high risk communities — especially those recently released from prison. For the past nine years, Sullivan has trained peer educators to take what they learn back to their home communities, where they'll combat stigma and false information about HIV.
“What keeps me coming back to the classroom is that I am making a positive change in the lives of my students,” says Sullivan. “They are willing to join me in ending HIV stigma that effects the lives of all HIV-positive people.”
An advocate for prisoner’s rights, Sullivan campaigns for the safety and dignity of HIV-positive prisoners and former inmates. As a writer for the Prison Health Newsletter, a quarterly publication which reaches over 5,000 inmates, she shares health advice with incarcerated men and women. Sullivan also supports repealing HIV criminalization legislation.
A board member of the Positive Women’s Network, a nation-wide network of women living with HIV, Sullivan is a true voice for underrepresented populations living with the reality of HIV, especially women of color and those behind bars. She’s determined ensure that all people are able to access the same quality of treatment and resources that others have at their disposal.