Despite my best efforts, I’ve always been drawn to health and science. Growing up in a family of nurses and doctors will do that to you, I guess. But I was determined to be different. When I decided to pursue journalism instead of any STEM track like my siblings, I used it as my ticket away from math and sciences.
But, here I am: a communications intern for AIDS United, an organization focused on the health and well-being of people living with and impacted by HIV. And I’m loving it. Most of my days consist of writing and posting on social media to advocate for people living with HIV. Although I came into this experience with an understanding of HIV, I have already quadrupled my knowledge during my first month of being here, mainly due to my involvement with AIDSWatch.
AIDSWatch is a two-day conference dedicated to updating our stakeholders on the latest HIV policies. This year, AIDSWatch 2021 focused on quality of life, voting justice, racial justice and health care expansion. When I accepted this internship with AIDS United, I was told that my first couple of weeks would be dedicated to AIDSWatch.
They were not lying. It seemed like every day I was drafting social media posts, interviewing people, meeting with logistics teams or creating emails to send out to remind people to register for the event. I even started making TikToks to promote AIDSWatch. Each day I grew more and more excited for my first big event with AIDS United. When the Sunday before AIDSWatch came, I did not sleep.
I woke up almost every hour, heart racing, thinking that I had somehow slept through the entire conference and disappointed my communications team. But I did not. I woke up at my usual time, got ready for the day, and helped with any last-minute details I could before our 3 p.m. show time.
My task during AIDSWatch was to run our Instagram story. I was thrilled to be assigned Instagram as it is one of my favorite social media platforms. I started off with a countdown to AIDSWatch, then as our panelists and speakers started their conversations, I pulled meaningful quotes to highlight on our story. This was no easy task because I was moved by the powerful stories and comments from all of our speakers.
One of my favorite quotes was from Vanessa Johnson in the opening discussion about quality of life. “Living for the sake of living is no longer an acceptable goal.” This quote has stuck with me and will continue to guide my writing as I work with AIDS United and beyond. Not only did this discussion focus on quality of life, but Cecilia Chung brought up the importance of quality of death as well. She raised the issue of pronouns and proper names for the transgender community, as well as accessing medication and services for aging people living with HIV. Chung reminded us that people living with HIV do not live single-issue lives and should be treated as a whole person, not just one diagnosis.
I was also moved by the discussion on health care expansion, no surprise there. Most of my junior year of college was dedicated to researching disparities in the medical field regarding race, access to care and medical student treatment. Hearing from panelist Christine Adeleke that many people living with HIV are turned off from doctors due to maltreatment was no news to me, but it still made my heart ache. Her words “recalibrate the health care system” stick with me, as well as other panelists’ points on accessibility and education.
We wrapped up AIDSWatch with two important discussions about voter engagement and civil rights. Panelists brought up intersectionality and the importance that human testimony can have on people who are not knowledgeable about the disparities people living with HIV face.
When AIDSWatch finished with closing remarks from Carl Baloney Jr., our vice president and chief advocacy officer, I wanted nothing more than to wrap my AIDS United team in a massive hug. I felt like I had just won the lottery. I logged off feeling so honored and touched to be a part of the experience. I also slept soundly for the first time in two nights.
Working at AIDS United is one of the first jobs I’ve had that has left me feeling fulfilled at the end of each day. I get to advocate for an issue I care about and talk to some amazing people along the way. I feel so incredibly thankful to be a part of this organization, even if it is only for a short while.