By Dee Crumm
Knoxville News Writer
For the third year in a row, Knoxville area activists hosted a local World AIDS Day Observance at the Foundry on the World’s Fair Site.
The event was designed to highlight the importance of raising awareness regarding attitudes, affected populations, and local perspectives in the global AIDS crisis.
Chandra Harris, Knoxville News-Sentinel staff writer, was the keynote speaker for the event held on Thursday, December 1.
“The face of AIDS was starting to look like mine,” Harris replied when asked about her passion regarding HIV/AIDS. Harris participated in a collaborative effort resulting in a series of articles on AIDS entitled, “Living Positive: HIV/AIDS in East Tennessee .” The series ran in the Knoxville News-Sentinel from August 14 through August 20 and was funded in part by the Kaiser Foundation.
Harris presented a one-person drama depicting HIV/AIDS by moving through identities of various persons living with HIV/AIDS (PWLHAs) from a variety of backgrounds. A young black woman living in the South, a properly educated Christian school student, a Ph.D. in a monogamous relationship, and heterosexuals who do not worry about AIDS gave insight into who has HIV/AIDS in the Southern Appalachian region. She used a picture frame to illustrate her point that the various aspects of human being that are used to describe them such as “black,” “woman,” or “gay” provide little information into the actual person, but tell you about their “frame.” The frames offer some details, yet that information is frequently used to stereotype individuals.
“No one looks within the frames,” Harris said, “In a town where sweet tea is the drink of choice, where everybody thinks they look good in the color orange, and where there is a church on every corner; we have difficulty looking into the eyes of AIDS.”
Harris stated that the face of AIDS is everyone’s. With 80 million a year dying of AIDS, the rate in the African-American community is rising, and the sense of urgency regarding AIDS is dwindling. She maintains that AIDS is our hurricane Katrina, our tsunami, and our 9/11. Harris says she experienced the humility of persons with AIDS offering her support while she wrote her articles. She said while they were hugging the toilet, dying, and impoverished, they told her as she left, “call me if you need me.” She found that no color, possessions, or neighborhood could change the world of AIDS and challenged us to change AIDS one frame at a time.
In addition to the presentation by Harris, the Knoxville community presented the HIV/AIDS Person of the Year award to Vivian Gwinn. Gwinn has served as a prevention educator with Helen Ross McNabb and leader of the local Faith Coalition for the past five years.
Dee Crumm has previously served as Assistant Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Knoxville. In addition, she worked with AIDS Response Knoxville and was a founding member of Positively Living. She can be contacted at [email protected].