September 8, United States Conference on AIDS, 2017. Washington, D.C.: Black men wait 32% longer to cross the street than white men, according to a study from Portland, Oregon. Males in their 20s, identically dressed, had very distinct experiences: While the white men waited only 7.4 seconds to cross, Black men waited an average of 9.79 seconds for a driver to yield after signaling their intention to cross.
Such an anecdote, at first glance, seems to have little to do with health care. Yet—as Dr. David Williams of Harvard University, the keynote speaker at the opening plenary of the 2017 U.S. Conference on AIDS (USCA), illustrated with diverse statistics—the overlap between structural racism that people of color, particularly Black people, face every day and significantly lower health outcomes is impossible to ignore. Even Black people with a college degree have a shorter life expectancy than white people without a high school diploma. When it comes to health disparities, there are systemic problems that run even deeper than the already very real and widely acknowledged problem of lack of access to poor and working class people. Continue reading “Disparities in Health Outcomes, Barriers to Care Are About More Than Just Access”→
March 16, 2017: For National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (#NWGHAAD), PWNers from coast to coast hosted and participated in events, in person and online, raising awareness and educating our communities about HIV and its impact on women and girls and asserting the bodily autonomy of women living with HIV.
From the Women Living Conference in Atlanta (PWNer Shyronn Jones shares her experience there in this blog) to a special event focused on the theme of bodily autonomy in Philadelphia, PWN-USA members and regional chapters took advantage of the occasion to speak out, share our stories and advocate for our rights. You can see the events PWN-USA members and chapters hosted, participated in and/or presented at here. And check out the slideshow above!Continue reading “On #NWGHAAD, PWNers Assert and Celebrate #BodilyAutonomy”→
March 10, 2017: Today is National Women & Girls HIV Awareness Day. In honor of the approximately 300,000 women living with HIV in the United States, please join Positive Women’s Network – USA in asserting and celebrating the bodily autonomy of all women and girls living with HIV, including women of trans experience.
Yesterday, we presented Bodily Autonomy: A Framework to Guide Our Future in a special webinar (watch the recording here!) Today at 12 PM EST/9 AM PST, we continue the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #NWGHAAD and #BodilyAutonomy with special guests from HIVE, SisterSong, Desiree Alliance, The Well Project, Positively Trans, Arianna’s Center and Prevention Access Campaign. We invite you to join the conversation online! You can also access our complete #NWGHAAD #BodilyAutonomy social media toolkit here, complete with sample social media posts and shareable graphics.
November 15, 2016: Today, we grieve. Tomorrow, we fight.
Resistance in the face of terror is nothing new for our communities.
Our bodies are transgressive: Black, brown, and otherwise pigmented; queer; HIV-containing; border-crossing.
Our bodies and those of our ancestors have mostly migrated – some by choice but many by force – to a country that does not love us. 60 million people told us that last week. But our ancestors have been organizing in the face of hate, bigotry, terror, and loss for hundreds of years. We will not stop now.
Combatting racism, misogyny, xenophobia, transphobia, and patriarchy is an everyday reality for women living with HIV in the U.S. We are not strangers to living in fear or to having our rights violated. We know full well that justice has always been a fantasy for many of our members because Lady Justice’s blindfold is just for show; the heavy fingers of bigotry and resentment have weighed on the scales of justice throughout American history.
Regardless of the election’s outcome, we would have had to continue to fight vociferously for the safety, health, dignity and equality of ourselves and our loved ones. With a different outcome, our work likely would have been defined by an offensive strategy: pushing for progress and accountability to campaign promises. What transpired with last week’s election sets us back on the defensive, threatening decades of progress for women, people of color, those of us living with chronic health conditions and disabilities, queer and trans people—that is, just about everyone in this country who is not a white male.
For now, we commit to encircle and uplift those who will be increasingly targeted in the face of a Trump administration – for being brown, Black, queer, Muslim, immigrant, indigenous, non-English-speaking, womyn, and trans and gender non-conforming. Our next steps cannot be a reform agenda. Our tactics must be radical, revolutionary, and intersectional – building and centering leadership and strategic investment where it is most needed. Civil rights were not granted through an election; they were won in the streets.
Still, it is not enough to protest in the streets while we allow the institutions we work for and that purport to serve us to perpetuate the same oppressions we are fighting in our governmental institutions. We must actively work to combat racist, misogynistic and patriarchal practices within institutions and organizations, while we fight state-sanctioned violence.
And at the same time, we commit to radical self-care, because our preservation, health and dignity itself is revolutionary. As the great Audre Lorde said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Elections have consequences, and we fear the worst from this one; but that only means we must fight harder, smarter and more relentlessly than ever before. In the coming weeks, months, and years, we must work intersectionally and in solidarity. We cannot work narrowly on one issue; more than ever, we need to fight for a broad progressive agenda, inclusive of ensuring that our very rights to healthcare, food, housing, land, movement, migration, and even to participate in democracy are protected. Our fates are intertwined. Only through fierce solidarity will we be strong enough to withstand the attacks on our communities and our very right to exist.
We will fight as if our life depends on it, because it does. In the meantime, love each other fiercely and hold each other tight.
See you in the streets and in the halls of Congress.
In sisterhood and solidarity ~ Positive Women’s Network – USA
“White friends, I understand your grief, and I know it’s real. I am living with it too. We are grieving together-mostly for the death of a rosy vision that many of the people around us, people we know and love, never had the privilege of believing in. Now it’s time for us to stand in that discomfort and feel it. Really feel it. And think about it. And talk about it. Not just to each other, but to everyone. To other white people specifically.” Read more here.
OCTOBER 21: Women with HIV simultaneously live with the effects of trauma resulting from interpersonal, community, and institutional violence. Studies have shown that the lifelong and compounding effects of these different forms of violence may have consequences far deadlier than the virus itself. October 23, Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), along with dozens of endorsing organizations, will observe our third Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV, releasing a factsheet highlighting the many forms of violence impacting women living with HIV and their communities, with a special focus on criminalization, discriminatory law enforcement practices and other forms of
structural violence, and to offer solutions and ways that government, institutions and organizations can help prevent and mitigate violence and trauma. We will also be hosting a Twitter chatMonday, Oct. 24, at 2 PM ET/11 AM PT to look at the promise of trauma-informed care for women living with HIV as a means to healing the trauma that is far too often a barrier to retention in care (follow the hashtags #pwnspeaks and #EndVAWHIV). Community events are also being held in various cities, and members in Philadelphia and Houston secured proclamations from their cities declaring October 23 the Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV.
Laws criminalizing people living with HIV (PLHIV) disproportionately affect over-policed communities, including women of color (who make up 80% of the epidemic among women) and women of trans* experience. Harassment and brutality by police and law enforcement create hostile environments that perpetuate trauma in communities of color and other communities significantly impacted by HIV. Consequently, for the 2016 National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV, PWN-USA demands:
Repeal and reform of laws criminalizing HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission
An end to law enforcement practices that target communities disproportionately impacted by HIV, including people of trans and gender nonconforming experience (TGNC), sex workers, people who use drugs, immigrants, people who are unstably housed, people with mental illness, and communities of color
An end to stigmatizing and discriminatory interactions, methods of surveillance and brutalization of PLHIV and communities impacted by HIV at the hands of law enforcement
Elimination of barriers to safe, stable, and meaningful reintegration into the community for those returning home from jail and prison, those with criminal convictions, and the loved ones who support them.
PWN-USA called for the first Day of Action in 2014 in response to several high-profile murders of women following disclosure of their HIV status. Last year, community events were held in at least 18 cities, as well as a Twitter chat with 228 participants that reached 1.6 million people. 18 blog posts and statements were submitted by individuals and organizations in honor of the Day of Action. PWN-USA hopes this year’s day of action will continue to raise awareness, put forward solutions and mobilize advocates to push for meaningful change to end structural and institutional violence in the form of criminalization of our communities.
PWN-USA Statement for National Black HIV Awareness Day
by Vanessa Johnson and Waheedah Shabazz-El
Black Americans have endured an exceptionally brutal history which complicates our present and challenges our future. Torn from our native land–the continent that gave birth to humankind–we have been systematically dehumanized to serve as chattel in a foreign land. Even now, the United States offers Black Americans citizenship only at a substandard quality of life and without an opportunity for reparations and healing. Given this history, and our understanding of HIV as an epidemic that thrives on inequality and injustice, an HIV epidemic among Black Americans should hardly come as an unexpected surprise.
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) is anything but a celebration. It is a grim reminder of how far we still have to go, and how hard we still have to fight. Black lives will matter when our nation confronts and conquers the hypocrisy of those who claim to cherish all life yet place greater value on fetuses than on living, breathing Black children and adults.
Throughout this epidemic, HIV has shined a bright spotlight on the wide range of injustices confronting Black Americans: intergenerational poverty, mass incarceration, institutionalized racism, inadequate access to health care, inferior educational opportunities, disproportionate targeting by police, a racist criminal justice system, and more. If there is anything that the HIV community has universally accepted, it is the understanding that HIV is more than just a medical condition. The federal response to this epidemic serves as a very window into the soul of one of the richest nations on earth — a nation which continually leaves Black Americans in its wake, drowning in the torrents of a largely preventable disease. Merely half a century after the end of segregation, in a nation whose economic basis is founded on Jim Crow laws and which turns a blind eye to the systemic injustices facing people of color, we cannot feign surprise that there continues to be an epidemic of HIV among Black Americans and that Black people living with HIV face worse health outcomes on average.
Although some progress has been made, Black Americans are still fighting for access to the most fundamental human rights – including water, food, employment, education, and the right to vote. We continue to be locked out of meaningful civic participation, fair representation and decision-making from the local level to the highest halls of federal government.
This rings particularly true for Black American women, whose plight and leadership in this epidemic continue to be minimized. Despite the advances made to reduce new infections, Black American women still acquire HIV at an alarming rate–representing 60% of new infections among women–and remain the majority of women living with HIV in this country. Although Black women comprise nearly two-third of the domestic HIV epidemic among women, Black women living with HIV are still not a priority in the newly-released National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS 2020).
As an advocacy organization, Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN-USA), the premier voice for women living with HIV in the United States, will not stand idly by in silence while women of African descent continue to bear the brunt of this disease and policymakers’ indifference to its effects on our community. We demand that our government invest in effective HIV prevention for Black women, as well as in women-centered, whole-person, universal health care that addresses the barriers to engagement and retention in care for women with HIV. Medicalization of HIV will continue to fail in addressing the needs of women living with and vulnerable to HIV when they do not have adequate access to basic resources to stay healthy.
The HIV epidemic in this country will end when America commits to the underlying conditions which enable HIV to thrive, such as racism and poverty. We demand a laser focus on upholding the full health, rights, and dignity of Black women living with HIV over the next five years of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy’s implementation.
Positive Women’s Network – USA Statement on
World AIDS Day 2015
Dec 1, 2015 – Just four days ago, an atrocious act of terror was perpetrated against Planned Parenthood, an essential source of healthcare for working and low-income women, men and young people in the US. As women living with HIV who have benefited from the healthcare and education services provided by Planned Parenthood, we condemn this brutal violence. We grieve for the loved ones of Jennifer Markosky, Ke’Arre Stewart and Garrett Swasey. And we mourn the devastation of women’s sense of safety, bodily autonomy, and threats to well-being for healthcare providers committed to delivering woman-centered care.
As women living with HIV, many of us have used and still depend on the vital health care services Planned Parenthood provides, including access to HIV testing, screening for sexually transmitted infections, pap smears, and the means to determine if, when and how we have children. We will continue to fight for these services.
Make no mistake. Attacks on Planned Parenthood are assaults on women’s rights to health, dignity, and self-determination.
While brutal violence like the recent incident in Colorado is typically met with condemnation by leaders of all political stripes, a large number of elected officials have waged a relentless war on Planned Parenthood specifically and women’s health more generally in recent years. The growing movement to deny essential healthcare to working and low-income women—accompanied by simultaneous and persistent efforts to decimate programs critical for working and low-income families – including food stamps, Medicaid, and paid parental leave — marks a deep disdain for women. These leaders would not only deny us the right to make decisions about whether, when and under which circumstances to have children – they also seek to deny the support that makes having and sustaining families a feasible reality.
A new study shows that states with higher funding for social services have much lower rates of HIV incidence and of AIDS deaths—signaling that, if the U.S. is serious about “getting to zero,” we have to be willing to challenge the reactionary idea that the working classes and the poor fare better when forced to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
We must also be willing to challenge the rhetoric espoused by those who call themselves “pro-life” while tacitly or explicitly encouraging hatred, dehumanization of women, and violence. As women living with HIV, we know all too well the power of language to affirm or to dehumanize; to show respect or to stigmatize and criminalize. Hostility toward sex education, sexuality and reproductive rights is detrimental to us all—yet is evidenced by the fact that our government released a National HIV/AIDS Strategy in which the word “reproductive” does not even appear.
Women living with HIV—like all women—deserve access to affordable healthcare including the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive services–and yes, abortion and contraception services–that meet all of our health and family planning needs. Since the beginning of the epidemic, the sexual and reproductive needs and desires of women living with HIV have been ignored and dismissed by those in power. On this World AIDS Day 2015, we must take a stand to assert that women with HIV deserve not only life-saving medications, but the right to self-determination—and the full spectrum of healthcare services and options to make that right a reality.
By Waheedah Shabazz-El, PWN-USA Director of Regional Organizing
“Unapologetically Black” was a major theme amongst more than 1,500 Black activists and organizers in attendance at the 1st National Movement for Black Lives Convening, held July 24-26, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio, at Cleveland State University. I arrived of course as a Stakeholder and an HIV Activist representing PWN-USA, Philadelphia FIGHT, and HIV Prevention Justice Alliance (HIV PJA) — intent on helping to shape the landscape of the new Black Movement through identifying critical intersectional opportunities for movement building. Highlighting the implications of HIV Criminalization Laws and how they tear at the very fiber of the Black Community.
Something else happened for me as I disembarked the transit bus and approached Cleveland State University, something rather enchanting. I was eagerly greeted by young adults whom I had never seen or known, with unforeseen energy of reverence, respect, and appreciation. Warm smiles, head nods, door holding, bag reaching; along with verbal salutations of “good morning beautiful,” “good morning Black woman,” “good morning sister,” and “Black Love.” All this just for showing up, just for being there, just for being Black.
I soon realized there was another transformation going on here, because in my mind I was arriving as this “kick ass activist.” However, I was being seen and greeted through a prism of unanticipated reverence. I was being greeted as an elder — a tribal elder. Yes I showed up. Yes I was there. Of course I was Black – but beyond that, I was being bestowed the honorable identification as a Black Tribal Elder. A Black Tribal Elder who (now in my mind) had been summoned here to help shape the foundation for real Black Liberation.
Each person that greeted me was cheerful, kind, and jovial, yet maintained an unspoken seriousness which I came to understand to be a greeting from a deeper place inside each of us. It was utterly amazing. Our spirits were meeting, touching, embracing, and speaking in unison, saying to each other: “We are here to be free.”
Day One, July 24
Day One of the conference and I was already hyped. Feeling grand and safe and appreciated, it was time to get down to work. Registration was seamless (since folks at the front of line called my name); then we were off to the opening ceremony. Greetings, salutations and introductions of the founders of the movement, local leaders and honoring of family members of young lives taken much too soon. The highlight of the opening ceremony for me was when Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza took us on a poetic history journey honoring the city of Cleveland for their leadership in the history of the Black struggle: From Ohio’s long and rich history as a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity to the 1964 Cleveland schools’ boycott to protest segregation to the 1st National Movement for Black Lives Convening.
The panel connecting HIV to the Movement for Black Lives was next and entitled “The Black Side of the Red Ribbon.” Panelists Kenyon Farrow, Deon Haywood, “young” Maxx Boykin from HIV PJA, and myself were given the opportunity to bring Black AIDS Activism into perspective and shared our motivation and years of experience working alongside (the Black side) of other community members in the fight to address the HIV dilemma and the stigma surrounding it.
Later that evening, July 24, we were addressed as a mass assembly by several of the recent families who have lost loved ones to police brutality and state violence. Family members of Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson — both local victims of police murder. There was also cousin of the late Emmett Till.
Day Two, July 25
Day Two was more of the same “Black Love,” “good morning Black Man” and an opening plenary, yet something a bit different occurred. The Movement for Black Lives made its first essential internal transformation without any resistance. The challenge was eloquently articulated by a delegation of transgender and gender-variant participants who were invited to the stage: “The Movement for Black Lives must be a safe place for all, and inclusive of all gender identities and sexual expressions.”
The delegation introduced a list of logistic challenges that were overlooked, which included: an application with more than two gender choices; trans*-related workshops spread out on the schedule and not all in the same time slot; conference badges that allowed preferred name and pronoun preferences; and use of gender-neutral restrooms. In addition, the delegation offered some “not-so-gender-specific” language. Instead of referring to one another as brother and/or sister, we could use the word “Sib” (short for sibling) a more inclusive term. On the website, the Movement for Black Lives Mass Convening was framed as a space and time that would be used to “build a sense of fellowship that transcends geographical boundaries, and begin to heal from the many traumas we face.” So the transformation is to build a sense of siblingship, instead of fellowship.
“HIV Is Not a Crime, Or Is It” was the title of the panel I participated in later in the afternoon on Day Two, and it was a blast – aka a huge success. An expert panel with Marsha Jones, Kenyon Farrow, Bryan Jones, and I fiercely articulated how HIV Criminalization laws disproportionately affect and break down the very fiber of Black Community: their implications on Black Women, their children and Young Black Gay Men, and the impact the laws were having on public health within our Black Community.
Day Three, July 26
In the closing strategy sessions, HIV criminalization was kept on the agenda of the Movement for Black Lives. Ending HIV is a must and it will take a movement, not a moment, to take on the issue of ending yet another way of policing Black communities – this time through legal discrimination of people living with HIV.
All in all, the Movement for Black Lives was a gathering where we connected to Black love, Black leadership and Black power, Black culture, Black art, and the Black aesthetic in music. The convening included an amazing workshop on “Building Black Women’s Leadership.” The Movement for Black Lives’ journey continues as we commit our energy toward deepening and broadening the connections that were made at the convening. Again: It’s a Movement not a moment.
Black women, Black men, Black youth, Black elders, Black artists, Black straight people, Black queer people, Black trans* people, Black labor, Black Muslims, Black Christians, and Black Panthers. We laughed together. We cried together, and cheered for one another. We challenged each other and shared life experiences. We shared resources, studied together, and created new networks. We debated. We danced. We chanted. We partied together. We healed. I left there pumped with pride, chanting continuously in my head:
I believe that
I believe that we
I believe that we will
I believe that we will win! And #wegonnabealright.
Waheedah Shabazz-El is a founding member of PWN-USA and serves as PWN-USA’s Regional Organizing Director. She is based in Philadelphia.
I have been incredibly excited about making my transition to New Orleans, as I had become really homesick over the last year and a half, desiring to return to the City of my birth.
There is something about New Orleans … the people, the sights, the smells, the sounds, and the rhythm and energy of the City; unlike any place else in the world!
Another reason for my homesickness and desire to leave Denver, CO, is because I grew lonely and fatigued at looking at so many faces that didn’t look like me, and desired to be in a community that does, especially in a community of Black women. In the two months that I’ve been here, I have been able to find and join in a few events that have fed that need in my soul; to hear and learn about and participate in actions that highlight the state of trans women, Black women and girls in New Orleans, and to assist me in finding my place as to where I can serve and give something back to the community.
On June 18, 2015, I had the great privilege of attending a Summit entitled “Breaking the Silence: A Town Hall on Black Women.” The intention around this Town Hall – which is a part of a National Series spearheaded by Kimberle Crenshaw, Executive Director of the African American Policy Forum – is to address challenges Black women in New Orleans experience on a daily basis, and then identify opportunities that local decision-makers can take back to their organizations and effect policy change.
After holding moments of silence for the nine martyrs who lost their lives to unspeakable terror and violence on June 17 in Charleston, we began.
The Town Hall was divided into 3 very rich panels:
Economic Violence in Post-Katrina New Orleans;
State Violence and Criminalization of Black Women and Girls; and,
The one panel I will focus my thoughts on today is Economic Violence in Post-Katrina New Orleans. In future blogs, I will address the other two panel topics.
The women who were on this panel were: Ashana Bigard, housing and education advocate; Cashauna Hill, housing advocate; and Dr. Adrienne Dixon, education advocate.
This is a critical time in New Orleans in the recovery and building process, and it has been identified that so many crucial voices have been left out of the recovery and building conversation. Marginalized Black women and girls and other women of color have fallen out of the recovery intervention equation. The idea that racial and economic justice would trickle down to women and girls through dads, brothers, and sons is an ideal. The idea that women and girls are strong enough to wait for racial and economic justice to get to us is a myth. Women are verbalizing that the way forward is to lift up the truth of Black women’s stories and come forward to say that Black women and girls matter.
Ashana shared that the City of New Orleans has brought in outside contractors who have charged massive amounts of money and who have given their opinions and conclusions of post-Katrina recovery solutions, vs. inviting Black women and women of color to the table who are from the City, and are EXPERTS in and on their communities. For many reasons, numerous women and families have been displaced and are unable to return home to help re-build their neighborhoods and communities.
Although salaries in the city have remained the same, rent and groceries have tripled and lack of economic opportunities makes it difficult for women to be stable in housing.
She also shared about Parish housing authorities establishing ordinances that discriminate against people of color for housing opportunities. A perfect example she gave was of the St. Bernard Parish that engaged in a campaign to limit housing opportunities for Blacks in the Parish. These policies made it very difficult to find or keep housing and these civil rights violations on the part of the Parish unfolded over the course of more than seven years. This ordinance restricted the rental of single-family residences to those related by blood to the owner of the property (keeping in mind that the racial makeup of the Parish is 88.29% White and 7.62% Black). Even after settling with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and the U.S. Department of Justice, the Parish and the Parish Council were repeatedly held in contempt by a federal judge for violating the voluntary agreement. They were also found guilty of repeated actions to delay construction on multi-family housing developments in the Parish. It was noted by the Department of Justice that racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of the legal battle. So after years of litigation and $2.5 million later, St. Bernard Parish is building low- and moderate-income homes.
Everyone should have an opportunity to choose where they want to live regardless of their race.
Cashauna provided statistics stating that 83% of those receiving housing assistance in the state are women. Further, a 2009 report by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center found that Housing Choice Voucher holders in Orleans Parish were 99% African American, and that they were facing severe discrimination. Criminal background checks keep Black women and women of color out of housing, especially if landlords and rental companies enforce different standards of criminal background checks on potential Black, Brown and White renters.
Cashauna also shared that women she advocates for have shared that they are constantly threatened to be evicted if they do not trade sexual favors in exchange for housing, especially and including undocumented women. They voice that they are harassed and discriminated against on a regular basis. This harassment makes them more vulnerable to eviction and often puts them in situations where they may turn to survival sex for retention of housing.
This speaks to the fact that Black women and women of color feel under-protected in these situations and may often feel like there is no resolution or help for the challenges they face. These situations show the potential incidence of high-risk behavior for these women, and could place them in the category of populations at high risk for acquiring HIV.
Additionally, the City, by order of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has eliminated public housing units for 3,000 families and only 670 of these units have been replaced. These uncensored bodies, which include HUD, City and Parish Housing Authorities, and private developers, are in fact participating in public and private-funded gentrification. These bodies have made the decision about who can and can’t come home with the elimination of these 11 public housing units. This elimination of housing units and these appalling housing policies disproportionately impact Black women and women of color, especially considering what I said earlier: that women make up 83% of people in New Orleans who use subsidized housing and Blacks are 32.4% of Louisiana population, and 59.7% of Orleans Parish population.
This is another issue that shows the connection between safe and affordable housing and HIV. The effort to expand access to subsidized housing and other housing supports is crucial to vulnerable people living with HIV, because safe and affordable housing is healthcare.
I grew up in The Magnolia Projects, in 3rd Ward, and had close and extended family members living throughout the same housing project. Not only were there family members, but there were many other families in the Magnolias that treated me like family. There was always someone or someplace I could go to if my relatives were not around to let me in, feed me and/or give me a place to sleep. Today, the Magnolia Projects are no longer there and neither is my family. They, along with so many others throughout Orleans Parish, were demolished after Katrina and my family members that lived in New Orleans subsidized housing have been scattered to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston, Atlanta, and Long Beach, CA.
Many of these housing units did not experience any storm damage, but the City made the decision to totally flatten them anyway. What sits on the land now throughout Orleans Parish are some of the housing projects that remain empty or with mixed-income housing that have high-end rents or condos and townhouses for sale, that are in the higher $200,000s and low $300,000s, that often have workout gyms, recreation and community centers, and retail shops on their premises.
I have had the good fortune of being able to purchase a duplex home in the 7th Ward neighborhood. I am glad to be a part of the neighborhood and as I live in one of the units, I have made a commitment that I want to be able to provide a safe and pleasant living environment for a mother and her children on subsidized housing in the other unit.
Another endeavor I am anticipating is being a part of the City-Wide Katrina 10-Year Anniversary Day of Service, on August 29th, 2015. The Mayor of New Orleans hopes to have 10,000 people gather in New Orleans, during the week of August 24th-29th, to be a part of the Day of Service. I have volunteered to help build a Habitat for Humanity home for a family in my 7th Ward neighborhood. I look forward to putting in “sweat equity,” to help a family achieve their dream of homeownership!
Ashana mentioned how this economic violence also has a great impact on the health outcomes of Black women and girls and women of color because the stress, unsafe and unhealthy living and housing conditions all have an impact on women’s quality of life and general wellbeing. There is an intersection between poor health and homelessness. Health outcomes for Black women and women of color can be disastrous, especially women with an HIV diagnosis. These women may suffer illnesses at three to six times the rates of others and have a higher death rate and have dramatically lower life expectancy.
Dr. Adrienne shared that before Katrina, there were 7,000 teachers in the Orleans School District, and 80% of them were women. Post-Katrina, the majority of these teachers were fired, forced to retire, and/or were unable to return. This factor has had a huge impact on the number of Black women in the City. These experienced members and pillars of Black communities have now been replaced with Teach-for-America associates, who are predominantly young and white, have no history in the communities where they work, and do not serve as role models for Black girls. This greatly impacts Black girls’ success and ability to navigate an educational system that wasn’t created with their mental, social, emotional and educational well-being in mind. She states that New Orleans teachers have been displaced and disgraced.
With the establishment of a 100% charter school system in New Orleans, educational institutions are given free rein on determining what their policies and practices are and who can be accepted into their schools. Keeping in mind that Black students make up 44% of the public school body, but receive 67% of out-of-school suspensions, 68% of expulsions and arrests, and Black girls were 23% of those arrested. Black girls often report they are reprimanded for being “loud” or “defiant” when they were simply trying to express themselves in ways that were natural to them. Cashauna reported that once the students are arrested, many families of these students are then kicked out of their public housing, often leaving them homeless, and shelters aren’t an option for many families because a mother isn’t able to keep all of her male and female children with her. These policies demonstrate how Black girls and their bodies are marginalized, pushed out and over-policed just by being them, and are victims of economic violence in the area of housing and educational opportunities.
Some of the solutions members of this panel suggested were the establishment of Community Accountability Boards that look at a wide range of community disparities, and use the findings to shape policies to guarantee that all voices are heard, and needs factored in when making recovery and revitalization decisions that impact all citizens in the City of New Orleans. This also includes undergoing comprehensive fair housing training.
The inclusion of the voices of marginalized Black women and girls and women of color is a critical solution – they are valued as contributing members of the City, their voices are important, their unique and critical stories and needs must be taken into account in discussions about the recovery of the City.
Another solution that was presented was for charter schools to be more inclusive in engaging community members where they’re located, to give them a sense of ownership and to give them opportunities to help create procedures for the school and bodies they serve, with the hope of eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline connection. The voices of community members in residential neighborhoods, they feel, is crucial to improving the process of enrollment and encouraging the hiring of seasoned female educators of color.
The same is true for women living with HIV. These women are the EXPERTS on their lives and the virus, and they have a vested interest in ensuring the health and wellbeing of women are taken into consideration when decisions are being made about our lives. This includes inviting us to the table to hear our personal stories about our lives. The ending of the HIV epidemic will not be in reach without women being at the table and our meaningful involvement in vision and mission setting, and the development of policy and programs that take women living with HIV and their experiences into account.
I hope that local and national policy-makers will hear, regard and include the community’s solutions in their programs and policies to legislate change for marginalized Black women and girls and other women of color in New Orleans (and in communities infected and affected by HIV/AIDS).