Being an HIV 50+ Scholar at USCA – Part Four

We asked several of the 50+ Strong and Healthy Community Scholars to share their USCA experience with us. This week, we have Robert Riester.

This was the third USCA to host 50+ Strong & Healthy Scholars and the first year to host Transgender and Youth Scholarship programs. These three programs are a direct result of inclusion for voices that have not been heard. The USCA conference has historically been a venue for the voiceless. Produced by the National Minority AIDS Coalition or NMAC and its very colorful and animated executive director Paul Kawata of National Association of People with AIDS or NAPWA fame, the USCA conference is never boring.

The opening plenary luncheon: Activism and The Intersection of Movements Fighting for Social Justice aptly featured none other than Larry Kramer of ACT UP and The Normal Heart fame via video due to his poor health. It was clearly a struggle for him to read from his own script, but it was obvious that his pen and his mind were still very strong. The other speakers were equally passionate for the times we live in now, featuring: Naina Khanna-Executive Director, Positive Women’s Network; Abigail Echo-Hawk-Director of Urban Indian Health Institute; Alicia Gara-Co-Founder of #BlackLivesMatter; Havid Hogg-Activist and Survivor of Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School mass shooting; and Richard Zaldivar-Founder of The Wall Las Memorias Project. The themes of racism, gun violence, health access and equity were beautifully balanced with a tribute to Sylvester by Disco Diva, Thelma Houston and here signature song ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, summed up the message perfectly.

Being one of the 50+ Strong & Healthy Scholar alums, my session attendance was focused on HIV & Aging. The first session was introduced by NMAC Executive Director Paul Kawata and Moises Agosto with a discussion about the importance of the Mini-Grant program, possible future Sponsorship of a Conference on Aging, and Internships. I learned something new at every session I attended, as I always do. I also reunited with some old ‘NMAC Family’ friends and made some new ones.
The Saturday plenary session: Trauma Informed Care with a focus on HIV & Aging was produced by and with 50+ Strong & Healthy alums. ‘The Survivor Monologues’ focused on five emotions that come with long-term survival: Uncertainty/Fear; Anger/Action; Emotional Rollercoaster; Hope, and Resilience. According to many accounts, it was one of the most powerful plenary session segments ever done at USCA. It left the attendees who were all proudly standing in ovation, with a feeling of inspiration and empowerment. Thank you, NMAC!

Robert Riester