Positive Living Conference 12
Welcome to another blog entry. Let me apologize for missing a few days but I will catch you up on what has been going on in my life for the past few days.
First, I need to send a huge big bear hug to Butch McKay. Butch, pictured today with Dab the AIDS Bear and me, is the founder and host of the Positive Living Conference. He is also the driving force behind OASIS, their local AIDS Service Organization and serves on the board of many HIV/AIDS organizations and panels. Butch is also one of my personal heroes. Even though he is HIV negative, he gives his heart and soul to working for our community.
I am very thankful for the opportunity to launch our new initiative "I'm One in a Million" where people living with HIV and AIDS share their stories at this year's conference. I was also honored to be part of the steering committee for the conference with several other community leaders.
On Friday, I traveled with twenty other people from Jacksonville to the Positive Living Conference in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. We started our morning with meeting at Lutheran Social Services to get loaded into the vans for the long five hour drive down I-10. But the drive is worth it once you see the location. Ft. Walton Beach is located on the Gulf Cost of Florida between Tallahassee and Pensacola. The hotel is right on the beach where you can hear and see the waves and the beautiful emerald and blue water and sugary white sand beaches.
After arriving in Ft. Walton Beach, we all checked in to the Ramada and unloaded our stuff from the vans into our rooms. Then it was time for meeting for our conference steering committee so we could put the final touches on the tribute for Martin Delaney. The next evening we were doing the tribute at the same time Marty's tribute in San Francisco was happening.
Then it was time to get ready for dinner. My project was helping out with the conference with filming people stories about living with HIV and AIDS for our new "I'm One in a Million" project and taking pictures of attendees and our HIV negative supporters with Dab the AIDS Bear for the front page graphics of our website, so we went up and set up our signs announcing both of the above and two tables. One with HIV/AIDS handouts and the other with our HIV/AIDS awareness pins and Dab the AIDS Bears. A big thank you to Forrest, Mike, Walter, Heather, Torrencia and Paul for all your help. I greatly appreciate you giving up your free time and energy.
After dinner, we were entertained by the hilarious comic genius of River Huston. River shares her story with the comic precision of a surgeon while healing your soul with laughter. By opening her heart, she inspires others to live their lives to the fullest. A definite crowd pleaser for any college, church, HIV/AIDS event or fundraiser. You can see her website at www.riverhuston.com or clicking on the link at the bottom of the page. A big bear hug to you River. I look forward to seeing you again.
Then it was time to head off to bed to get up early the next morning for a day full of great presentations and speeches. Unfortunately, I did not get to attend but had the great experience of filming people talking about their lives with HIV. Here I need to send a huge thank you to Nathaniel, Heather and Mike for giving up their Saturdays to help with the filming and picture taking so we could accommodate as many people as possible. We had quite a few people share their story and each was very moving. I will let you know in a future blog entry as soon as I have them loaded to the website. And a special thank you to all the member of my community who shared their stories about living with HIV and AIDS. You are helping to shape the future.
During lunch time, my project members had our tables going so I could have time to network some. It was great seeing Cathy Hiers, Steve Bailous, Michael Rajner, Frank Oldham, Jesse Fry, Kathy Robinson Pickett, Bishop Joyce Turner Keller, and Tom Liberti. I also got to meet several other people during the weekend that I was hoping to meet.
After dinner, we had our tribute for Martin Delaney. Butch did a beautiful job remembering and honoring our old friend. For those of you who never met Marty, he will also be a hero to people with HIV and AIDS. To read more about Martin, please see his Dab's Angel page. I could barely get all of my part of the tribute out. For without having met Marty, I would not be alive today along with hundred of thousands of other like me. I felt Marty looking down with tears running down his face as he saw and heard his old friends on two coasts remembering and honoring him.
Toward the end, Butch commemorated the first Martin Delaney Voice of One award to Kathy Robinson Pickett for her work for the HIV/AIDS community. Besides being one of Marty's friends, she is a testament to living life to the fullest, surviving adversity and outstanding work in helping people with HIV and AIDS. Kathy is one of us working on our politicians to change things for our community and one of the nicest people in the world. I was so happy for her and you could tell how much it meant to her.
Then it was time for our dance and karoke entertainment of the evening down in the Ambassador Room. Neon sticks glowing in the semi-darkness, people were having the time of their lives whether dancing until breathless or having a great time singing their song. A great time was had by all.
By then it was midnight and time to hit the hay to get a few hours sleep before breakfast. Luckily, I was sharing the room with a friend from group and he does not snore.
The next morning, we restocked our tables and had breakfast. I went and packed really quick so they could load my stuff on the van. Then it was time for our last session which was lead by Steven Bailous and Michael Rajner from NAPWA (Natl. Assoc. of People with AIDS). We discussed activism, the Denver Principles Project and community organization. There was also a focus panel where people could make suggestions and ask questions.
All too soon, it was time to load up the van and start the long drive back to Jacksonville. My poor aching back is still feeling the ride.
If you have never been to Positive Living Conference, I invite you to the one next year. It will be an experience you will never forget and you might even make a new friend or two.
Thanks to Butch and all his staff at OASIS again for another great convention.
Wishing you health, hope and happiness.
big bear hug,