All in a Day’s Work

21 Sep

So let’s start with some statistics about our good ol nation’s Capital shall we ? ( I know, stats are boring but they are important to understanding the rest of the post. Trust me kids )

DC has the highest HIV infection rate in the country. An estimated 5% of the population is living with HIV/AIDS.

1% of the population between between the ages of 13-24 is living with HIV/AIDS.

DC has one of the country’s worst public school systems, with a graduation rate of about 50%.

Go Nation’s Capital !!! You are a shining beacon for the rest of the country right ?

And what is my job, here in a city that caught the mayor smoking crack, with a prostitute on video…….and re-elected him.

My job is to prevent HIV, STD’s and teen pregnancy in our fair city’s public schools. Yes, actually, I will take a drink.

Now here is the funny part. I actually LOVE what I do. Let me clarify – I hate, hate, hate, with the venom of a million vipers, my JOB. I am face to face with some of the WORST government dysfunction and waste of resources in the world. Most days, I am physically nauseous at the idea of walking through these doors.  But what I do, reproductive health with kids, stopping the spread of this virus – love it.

I have done nothing but HIV/reproductive health my entire life.  When you are the child of a single mom, sometimes you find yourself going to work with her. In 1986, my mom was a nurse doing home care for people with AIDS (PWA’s). I don’t know how much you may remember but this is in the days before we had anti-retroviral drugs and AIDS was a death sentence. She had a patient that I went with her to visit often. His name was Larry and I loved him. He loved show tunes and had albums and posters everywhere ( !!). My mom had always taught me about holistic healing and that touch was powerful. I looked at how sick he was, rail thin KS lesions on his face and I asked my mother where was his family, how could he be so sick and no one is here for him ? She told me he had a disease that made people not want to touch him. I became an AIDS activist at that moment. I was 12.

I started at 14 as a peer educator for Planned Parenthood, using improvisational theatre to teach other kids  all about The Safe Sex. I actually was part of the youth council that worked to pass the condom availability policy that I work on enforcing now. Since then, I have worked all over the field.

Back in the days before rapid testing,  clinics would call me to be in the waiting room when they knew they would be giving a kid a positive HIV test result. I was the case manager before they got a case manager. I helped them figure out who to tell.

I’ve run a national conference for youth HIV educators. I once organized the largest group of HIV positive youth ever held. Watching positive kids who had never been around another positive kids suddenly find themselves in a room with 150 kids who knew exactly what they were going through was one of the best experiences of my life.

When the dickface governor of Mississippi decided that Medicaid costs were the reason for all of his state’s woes, ( don’t get me started, have you ever BEEN to Mississippi ? ) and that they would now only pay for 2 brand name prescription ( people living with AIDS are usually on a triple cocktail, none of them available generic ), I headed to Jackson to recruit and train PWA’s to fight back. They did, they won and AIDS Action in Mississippi was born. ( I have many tales to tell about Mississippi. I was there 2 weeks after Katrina. There will be future posts about this. Actually, 90% of them hilarious )

When Medicare got a prescription drug plan, I traveled all over the country teaching PWA’s, doctors and case managers what that meant for them.

I spent three summers on the side of a mountain in upstate New York running a counselor in training program that put an emphasis on empowerment and youth leadership with teenaged girls from NYC. I was there to make sure they applied these concepts to their own reproductive health.

Folks, I know HIV. I am not too confident about a lot of things but one thing I can say is I am damn good at my job. Unfortunately, when you work for the government, you never get a chance to actually DO your job. You are too busy sitting in meetings about the work to do the work. Any good idea is going to be held up by paper and process until its too late to implement. The only saving grace is the fact that we have the crazy idea that if you are going to make decisions ABOUT kids, its a good idea to TALK to kids. We have a youth advisory council and those kids keep me sane. They are without a doubt some of the funniest, smartest insightful people I have ever met. And when we recruited, we intentionally didn’t want a group of the A students who were part of everything and without a doubt college bound. We wanted them to average out to a C and look like the cast of Glee and dammit if that isn’t exactly what we got !! We even managed to get a white kid, which is NO SMALL FEAT  in DC schools let me tell ya.

They remind me why I do this. They remind me of the world outside of triplicate forms.  I keep at it because I know that comprehensive sex education saves the lives of our kids. I keep at it because when teachers know how to teach about sex, kids do learn.

And to keep it all from being all bummer-y, I also do it because I spend a lot of time talking about sex which is awesome. I get to keep rubber penises, plastic vaginas, flavored lube and 4 types of condoms sitting at my desk. I’ve taught sex workers how to put condoms on with their mouth ( not too many lesbians with THAT skill, thank you very much). Hell, I’ve even had the pleasure of uttering the phrase ” men who have sex with men ” in the hallowed halls of Congress ! Take THAT Rich Santorum !!

I could go on all day. Its a new blog, I though it would be nice to do a little getting to know you stuff.

But ya know, I gotta go to a meeting.

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