“I was disappointed in myself,” Meta Smith-Davis told the Advocatelast year about learning she was HIV-positive in 2001. “No one has to get HIV. There are ways to prevent it.”
That was the message she was sharing at a 2015 Cupcakes and Condoms for HIV/AIDS Awareness event in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that was put on by the nonprofit Butterfly Kisses Organization. It was just another in a long line of presentations that she’s done as part of her HIV advocacy, but she admits it took her a while to gain the self-confidence she now displays.
In fact, Smith-Davis says, her greatest struggle has been, “learning to be okay with Meta. It continues to be a struggle at times, but I have an amazing support system which makes the struggle easier. It was a struggle to learn to be okay with Meta because I had no idea who I really was.” Oddly enough, she says, contracting and living with HIV gave her, if nothing else the deep desire to go find out the answer to that question. It meant she had to examine what her actions, thoughts, behaviors, and feelings said about who she really was.
Now a 61-year-old great-grandmother, Smith-Davis has worked with AIDS Healthcare Foundation and HAART: HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two, she’s the project coordinator of the Baton Rouge Stigma Index Project, and co-chairs Positive Women’s Network's Louisiana state chapter. In 2014, after she attended her first PWN Summit, Smith-Davis says she began looking at the world — and herself — completely differently. It helped solidify her interest in helping others.
Now she says, “I have been blessed to watch caterpillars turn into butterflies and that makes me feel hopeful and humbled.”
Asked what she’s most proud of, Smith-Davis says, “That’s a difficult question to answer. There are a few things, but I would have to say that being able to see people’s lives change, to be a part of — or deeper still, to have another person allow you the opportunity to be of service to them when in many instances they are most vulnerable.”
Smith-Davis, knows that’s very big step for the people she helps and she takes it seriously. It requires a great deal of commitment and authenticity, Smith-Davis acknowledges, but she believes “what comes from the heart reaches the heart.” It doesn’t hurt that she finally embraced the fact that she matters as much as the women she helps.
Her future plans entail going back to school and getting her degree, in order to continue helping other women living with HIV. “I would also would like to open a housing center for women and families living with HIV, that includes opportunities so that they could become independent. Someone gave me that opportunity and it changed my life. I see caterpillars coming in and butterflies flying out.”