It’s been a few weeks since I was asked to write one of NMAC’s weekly e-newsletters. At first, I was hesitant to speak to NMAC’s constituents through this platform; after all, it has been five years since I have spoken on a national stage. Since then, I had hoped a lot would have changed for the better.
For nearly 26 years I have spoken out as a voice in the HIV community. I believe there is a distinct difference between being a voice and being an advocate. An advocate is someone who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy. A voice is a source of strength that can move others to make change. Voices of all tones (be them whispers or be them shouts) are powerful.
As an advocate I am mistakenly branded as angry. But I use my voice to assert that I am not angry and I don’t apologize for creating a place in this movement to lift up all people. I refuse to apologize for not living in fear as a black woman living with HIV. In fact, I spent the first 25 years of my life living in silence. But when I learned of my HIV status, I found my voice. As I fought for my life, I learned to raise my voice and walk in authority. This authority came not only from learning about my HIV status but from a newly acquired education, and the strength of overcoming low self-esteem, bad relationships, poor education, and cocaine addiction.
Mistakenly, some would suggest that this authority has given me the label of being vain, but as I walk in authority, I feel immense pride – not vanity. I would never have imagined that for all my trials I would now be living drug free for 29 years, be happily married, be a mother, be a grandmother, and be a great-grandmother. I love that I am a friend, a mentor, an entrepreneur but most importantly I love that I am me.
I have learned to give of myself freely and I believe that as people of color living with HIV it is time to stop whispering simply because others might be uncomfortable when they hear our voices. I know firsthand that when we use our voices we gain power and can create change. For those of us of color and living with HIV finding our voices isn’t easy – but it’s important that we do so in order to create the change we want to see in this world.
I came to NMAC with the understanding that the shoes I had to fill were huge. To be honest, I never considered myself in such a partnership with NMAC. In 2012 I started a new chapter in life when I co-founded Ribbon Consulting Group with the thought that I would step back into the movement and allow others to ascend by doing behind the scenes work with national HIV partners such as NMAC.
I believe, unlike ever before, it is imperative once again for people of color living with HIV to be intentional voices in HIV leadership. When it comes the question to how we can support our needs and others living with HIV we can provide our own answers. We must raise our voices and be silenced no more. That’s why we created the Building Leaders of Color (BLOC) Initiative.
BLOC is the first program of its kind. It is designed to elevate, enhance, and create leadership opportunities specifically for and by people of color living with HIV. BLOC is a HRSA funded cooperative agreement that engages people of color living with HIV to be full, active, and engaged participants in planning bodies, medical and support care teams, boards of directors, and other efforts to address the National HIV/AIDS Strategy Goals.
It’s been a few months since I stepped into a new opportunity to partner with NMAC as a consultant to head up NMAC’s Leadership Pipeline Department. A major part of this position in leading the BLOC. NMAC partners with PWN-USA, THRIVE SS Transgender Law Center (Positively Trans), and the US People Living with HIV Caucus – all of which are nationally recognized coalitions and PLHIV networks to make and carry out the program goals of BLOC.
When I was approached by NMAC, I knew this was a call from the universe to continue working in the movement. I have always understood the role of a leader and many of you in the community have helped shape me over the past 26 years. Over the past few months NMAC staff and partners have embraced me back to the front lines. I have found that Paul and other NMAC team members truly value my life lessons and experiences, and I value their mentorship in this new role as we work side by side to give voice to people of color living with HIV.
Yours in the Struggle,
Linda H. Scruggs
Acting Director of the Leadership Pipeline
PS: This year we invite Ryan White HIV/AIDS Programs Part A & B recipients and graduates from the Regional Trainings to apply for our BLOC Training of Trainers (TOT) Training Institute to be held Aug. 6-11, 2017. Participation is limited and applications are due July 17, 2017. To learn more about the program and the application process please visit us here.