Saving Ourselves: Collective Power. Collective Solutions.
In the field of HIV, we have so many conferences that cater to the needs of persons living with HIV and those who work in the field of HIV; from providers, social workers, researchers, patients and so on. One conference that stands out to me, that has proven to be much needed, is the “Saving Ourselves Symposium” which is put on every year by “The Red Door Foundation.” I have had the honor to speak with the founder and Executive Director of the Red Door Foundation, Marvell Terry, who was able to give me more insight into the conference, its theme and what we can expect this year.
The Red Door Foundation, which was founded and is based out of Memphis Tennessee, started this, as what was known as, “The Tea Forum,” in the same city. It was a Memphis town hall meeting for people to talk about various issues, not just HIV. It was a space for folks to come together as a community to spill the “tea” in a positive way that would better the community. The second year of this town hall, it became S.O.S, which stands for Saving Ourselves Symposium. This is in reference to the fact that it is up to us, the people, to save not only ourselves, but our communities, as well.
During my interview with Marvell, he informed me that each year S.O.S has a different theme. This year, it’s “Selective Power. Collective Solution.” The back story behind this year’s theme came from Marvell watching X-Men. The superheroes, each born with genetic mutations that evolve into extortionary powers/gifts – each one with different gifts and abilities – that when put together, were stronger as one collective team and able to save the world.
So just like how each one of us has a different strength, or gift – which can be extraordinary for us and work in our favor – when we come together as one, and work towards the same common goal, to better our communities, we see “Powerful Solutions.”
Now, the theme this year is not the only major difference in the conference from last year. In the past, the S.O.S conference has only been held in Memphis. However, this is the first year that it is also being held in a different location. Marvell saw the need to move the conference around the Southern region of the U.S. Due to the high rates of HIV infection in Jackson, MS, he and his committee decided that it will be the first new location on the list for S.O.S., beginning June 8th and running through June 11, 2017.
Marvell also mentioned that HIV was not the sole reason for moving the conference to Jackson this year. He stated that the realm of social justice also played a part in having the conference there. We talked about Medgar Evers, the civil rights activist and first state field secretary of the NAACP. On June 12, 1963, he was assassinated outside of his home in Jackson, MS.
Personally, I really appreciate this being another reason for the conference to be held in Mississippi. There has been tremendous progress and we have seen a lot of things change for the better for our communities. But the work of those who came before us still continues. To look at where we are, here in America, and to look at the current political and social justice climate, I realize how, in more ways than one, some things haven’t changed since Medgar Evers’ death.
Marvell and the planning committee have really taken into consideration the feedback that they have gotten from each conference in order to better the next. This is why this year there is an “ally” track. As a result of evaluations, The Red Door foundation was very intentional about being more inclusive of more people, especially allies and transgender men and women, and ensuring that everyone is included and feels comfortable while at the conference. Of all the conferences that I have attended, this is the first to have a track focused on allies. Which is something I’m really excited about, because the Saturday morning breakfast plenary is being hosted by the ally committee and Greater Than AIDS to highlight the “We are family’ campaign. My mother and I will be panelists!
I believe that it will be a very impactful and powerful session, and will give some people an insight into what being an ally is all about or what it can look like.
Before my interview with Marvell ended, he mentioned to me the Red Gala, which happens during the conference every year and is an evening that celebrates one another and honors those who came before us and who have been making differences in our communities by doing “the work.”
Conferences and celebrations like S.O.S and the Red gala are needed as reminders and motivation to continue the work that we do until the job is done. And our job isn’t done until we get to an AIDS-free generation and zero new diagnoses.