Constituent Spotlight: Joe Gray

This is such an overwhelming feeling and such an honor to get to serve my Tribe, the HIV Community.  I am a young man from very humble beginnings and this is my truth. I have gone from being a hopeless Addict to an HIV Activist. April 10th 2015, Youth AIDS Day, is the day I got clean and moved into a 90 day homeless shelter for persons living with HIV here in Sacramento. I have done a lot of work on myself over the years so I could be where I am and I strive daily to be the person I needed when I was that young kinder-queer and newly diagnosed person living with HIV. I have gotten the opportunities to do some amazing and beautiful things after getting clean, such as being asked to represent Sacramento as a young gay man living with HIV at AIDSWATCH 2016 in Washington, DC where I advocated for HIV and AIDS funding in our country’s capital. I felt so overwhelmed, and in those moments, I learned about the power of my own story.

I cannot contain nor express in words the gratitude for the NMAC Youth Initiative Program, which has created a space for us young leaders to develop our personal leadership abilities though meaningful discussions and engaging in first-hand training from leaders in the HIV field. I became involved with the NMAC Youth Initiative Program based on a suggestion from a provider here at the clinic in Sacramento where I receive care. While at USCA 2016, I participated in various leadership trainings, dynamic discussions and, because of the training from NMAC, I have gained a confidence I never knew I had within myself. I have learned how to network and connect with other young leaders within the HIV field. I have been able to discover my leadership qualities and personal style. Soon after returning home from the program, I was a guest on POZIAM Radio speaking about my journey from Addict to Activist.

Later In 2017 I was asked to return as a Youth mentor. I made myself openly available to support, uplift, and encourage the youth scholars throughout the duration of our program and with their World AIDS Day projects and assisted with any questions they may have had.  While at USCA 2017, I felt it was important to build interpersonal relationships and deep connections with the other youth. I was able to help create space for them to engage in dynamic discussions about exploring the challenges we face as young leaders and creating networking opportunities, and shared community-based solutions. As we discover and collaborate on new ideas, we uplift and inspire each other’s community based work while redefining youth leadership as we wish to see it. We get to be the change we want to see in the world today.

While attending the Youth Initiative Program, we are given the space to cultivate the skills, abilities, and knowledge to formulate community-based efforts within the HIV community. Currently, I am putting all of what I have learned from Linda Scruggs, her team, and previous years with the Youth Program to work as the Lead on the planning committee for the One Love conference taking place at UC Berkley this year. One Love is a conference designed by young adults for young adults, ages 18-26, all of whom are living with HIV or AIDS. Participants will be engaged in complex discussions and workshop sessions about the unique issues they face with their diagnosis.

It is my hope that my experience will engage other young people living with HIV to know that there is life after diagnosis. We can dream and reach those dreams. We can have goals and achieve those goals. We can love and be loved. Most of all HIV has taught me how to love myself.