Know Your Status: My World AIDS Day Keynote Address at JASL’s Vigil

(Photo Credit: Chad Morgan)

On December 1, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) commemorated World AIDS Day with its annual candlelight vigil as it reflected on twenty seven (27) years of service to people infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS. The night’s event reflected on the past, remembering those who have gone on to join the ancestors; celebrated the present, the achievements; and looked to the future, as JASL positions itself as a viable and formidable organisation, responding to and preserving the dignity of people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.

(Photo Credit: Chad Morgan)

I am extremely proud of the professional and amiable service delivered by the committed & super-competent staff at JASL and feel privileged to serve with its Board of Directors, who all give selfless service towards the flourishing of this exceptional organisation. I have had the privilege of presenting on notable platforms regionally and internationally but none meant more to me than being asked to bring the keynote address at this year’s candlelight vigil, which observed the theme, “KNOW YOUR STATUS”.

(Delivering Address. Photo Credit: Chad Morgan)

Below is the content of the address I made:

As I thought about what I should say this evening about the theme for World AIDS Day, “Know Your Status”, I realised that perhaps this admonition is easier said than done. It is easy for me to come up here and tell you that “Knowledge is power” and that you should “get in the know”.

Why would someone not want to know their status in 2018 with all of the advances that have been made in treatment and available to anyone who has tested positive, getting him or her healthy and undetectable? Having thought long and hard about my own life experiences as an educated, “woke” and handsome gentleman,I realised that even with education there are two very powerful forces that often precipitates inaction and at points have totally debilitated me. Those two forces are SHAME and FEAR.

It dawned on me that in coming here to encourage you to “Know Your Status”, I needed to acknowledge that those forces exist and that instead of instructing you; with empathy, I must encourage each of us in this room to nurture our own circles where fear and shame cannot thrive and people are empowered to get the knowledge that can save their lives.

Brené Brown, in her book, “Daring Greatly:How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” says that shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” In other words, shame is underpinned by the belief that “I am not good enough” or “I am not worthy”. I am here to mash down that lie. Your worth is immutable – unaffected and intractable. There is nothing that diminishes your worth. You were created with that inherent worth and value. We must refuse to accept those symbols, ideological reminders around us that make us to feel that our worth and belonging are hinged on something else that is external to us. Mash down that lie!!!! You are enough!!! You are WORTHY!!! There is nothing in your experience that will wane your worth or “ENOUGHNESS”. And, in creating a world where shame and fear cannot hold seats of power, we must hold firm in our conviction of our own worth and the worth of others. There is no shame where the knowledge and appropriation of worth is and no fear in knowing.

Many of us in this room have been through some hardships that we did not believe we could live through. We are really stronger than we think and the fear of the unknown betrays that strength. Use your track record of overcoming as an indicator of how you can overcome anything – including a disclosure of a positive result. No experience in life comes to break you. In fact, every experience is your teacher and has shown up to impart wisdom that Life is fully aware that you are that worthy vessel to carry that wisdom gained from the experience it brings.

Eleanor Roosevelt puts it nicely. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I live through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” You are resilient. You are enough. You are strong. You are worthy. There is absolutely nothing to fear or be ashamed of in knowing your status.

 

(Damien Marcus Williams. Photo Credit: Chad Morgan)

A gentleman named Damien Marcus Williams wrote in his book, ‘Grab You Some Lemons’, “Life has been around longer than I have. It has gained enough wisdom to know what to give and in what measure – enough so that we may bend but never break…I have learned to allow the mystic of Life to carry me.” Your granny may have said it like this, “What a fi yuh, cyaan un fi yuh.” Trust your journey. The script of your life is written and there is no diagnosis that can alter the power of your destiny. So, get in the KNOW.

I close with a charge to all of us. Let us #StandUnited to create in our own circles, a soft place where others can fall; where fears are silenced and shame is suffocated. If someone else can tell their story and be met with empathy and understanding, shame will not survive and they will likely find the strength to know their status.

If you will like to get tested, visit any of JASL’s locations or call the numbers provided:

Head Office
Executive Director: Kandasi Levermore
3 Hendon Drive, Kingston 20
Tel: 925-0021/2
Fax: 925-0012
Email: infojasl2010@gmail.com

Kingston Chapter
Regional Programme Manager: Nichole Morris
3 Hendon Drive, Kingston 20
TEL: 925-0021/2 ext. 2232
CELL: 376-2083/551-1060
Email: nmorrisjasl@gmail.com
Serves: Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine, St. Thomas, Clarendon

St. Ann’s Bay Chapter
Regional Programme Manager:
14 King Street, P.O. Box 92, St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann (Jamaica National Family Planning Board, NFPB Building)
TEL: 972-2697
CELL: 390-4298/551-1067
Email:dwilliamsjasl@gmail.com
Serves: St. Ann, St. Mary, Portland, Manchester, Northern part of St. Catherine, the eastern parts of Trelawny & Montego Bay

Montego Bay Chapter
Regional Programme Manager: Tyrone Ellis
Van Haze Building, 16 East Street, Montego Bay, St. James
TEL: 925-0021/2 ext. 2238/2240
CELL: 376-1645/551-1066
FAX: 940-7386
Email: tellisjasl@gmail.com
Serves: St. Ann, St. Mary, Portland, Manchester, Northern part of St. Catherine, the eastern parts of Trelawny & Montego Bay

 

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