Graig Cote, Non-Medical Case Manager, Equitas Health
World AIDS Day 2017, a time of reflection as the New Year begins and another year passes without my friends. The lighting of candles in memory of those lost. Twice in the early days of the event, I attempted to honor my friends by reading names but my words were choked with tears as I lost myself in the reflection of their memories. Too soon, still sitting with the loss, like an empty wound in my heart. On other occasions, I have sat in the audience, jarred, as the names of my friends and of others’ loved ones were read. Waves of sadness again, and again, and again washed over me. As the years have passed I have had the honor of being the keynote speaker at two separate World AIDS Day events. Pushing through my sadness and loss and building my strength and resolve; I have come to realize that I needed to be a part of change, not only in the spectrum of HIV/AIDS, but also through World AIDS Day as an event.
This year we are hoping to bring a sense of celebration of life, hope, love, and possibility. The theme for 2017 is, “Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future.” Now that individuals are living longer with HIV, we are facing a myriad of different thoughts feelings and emotions. Like myself, others who are living with HIV no longer want to sit in sorrow, but instead, want to embrace and celebrate their lives. Although World AIDS Day is an attempt to honor those that we have lost we do not want to merely sit quietly weeping as the name of a person we loved is read. Drowning helplessly in a pool of sadness and guilt; losing ourselves in the spiral of ‘what ifs’ and ‘what could have been.’ Being continually reminded of the losses we’ve had to pull ourselves through and the river beds that have formed on the shelves of our cheekbones. Instead, we want to embrace our lives, share in the happiness of our current existence. Honor the memories and embrace the future that we fought so hard for. Embracing the new medications and continual change. This World AIDS Day, we want to acknowledge our growth and honor the journey we have traveled.
This year, I want to embrace the changes in the HIV /AIDS spectrum as a long-term ‘Thriver.’ To celebrate the societal shifts and advances in HIV prevention methods such as PrEP. To find security in the new armor of changing protection and management strategies. I want to not only be a part of the change. I want to be a leader in the change. I want to break down the stigma and isolation by creating a celebration and by honoring and engaging all individuals in an open dialogue about HIV. We as a community need to come together to be engaged and to engage all individuals in understanding the epidemic. This World AIDS Day event is not the beginning of change, but a part of the change in the spectrum of HIV /AIDS. To embrace our circumstances is to own them, and in owning them comes a chance of acceptance.
Join me at Nationwide Children’s Hospital from 6pm-9PM in the Baxter Auditorium to remember those who have passed due to AIDS-related complications and to acknowledge and celebrate the lives of those living with HIV. The event will include performances from song, dance, spoken word, to poetry, and art. Click here for more information.