You know how you “know someone” but you realize that you don’t really know them? That’s how I felt when I was asked to link up with Jeff Berry, the Editor-in-Chief of Positively Aware, and talk about his life and the A Day with HIV campaign.
I’ve known Jeff for a couple of years through work, but our conversations have centered around my day job duties and the magazine. However from those interactions, I could tell you that Jeff is incredibly passionate about the work that he does, is very connected to the HIV community both in Chicago and nationally, and takes his role as an advocate very seriously.
What I didn’t know is how Jeff journeyed from his own diagnosis to the place where he is today. He was diagnosed in 1989 and noted that it was “very scary” time for him because there weren’t really any treatments available like there are now. While many would agree that an HIV diagnosis today can still be scary, Jeff notes that it is in a different way. Mainly it is due to the continued stigma around HIV. He says that there remains a “need to lessen the stigma” around the disease, an assessment with which I completely agree.
According to Jeff, it is most helpful for those who are living with HIV to be around other people. “Support is key to finding your own way,” he shared. At the time of his diagnosis, Jeff had gone back to school for radio production but he felt like everything has shifted for him. A year after his diagnosis, Jeff went to Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN), Chicago’s oldest peer-led AIDS support organization in Chicago, for services and what he found there was a non-judgmental community that would soon become a key pillar in his story.
It was as a client of the organization that Jeff received copies of Positively Aware. He noticed that there was an ad asking for volunteers for the magazine and decided to get involved. That was 23 years ago. I was very impressed to learn that he worked his way from volunteering to transition into the role of Editor-in-Chief about 11 years ago.
My stash of Positively Aware issues, including last year’s “A Day with HIV” cover.
Five years ago, the team at Positively Aware launched the “A Day with HIV” as an anti-stigma photo campaign inviting people to show off what it looks like to live in a world affected by HIV. Over the years, the campaign has grown in both numbers and significance as people both HIV-positive and negative participate in this visual storytelling project that is designed to collectively rally against the stigma of HIV.
Tomorrow, September 22nd, we are all asked to grab our cameras and capture a moment in our day and share it across social media with the hashtag #adaywithHIV. Although I am familiar with the campaign, I have never participated! Of course, that changes tomorrow… I’m already thinking about what picture to snap and share.
When I asked Jeff if he knew what photo he was going to post, he initially surprised me by saying that he had no idea yet. In the past, Jeff has shared a photo of him with his partner, a shot of him working out, and, of course, a snap showcasing his life as an editor. After Jeff told me that was a DJ in his previous life, I secretly hoping that Tuesday’s photo will be a shot of him behind the turntables. *hint, hint* Probably won’t happen, but you never know!
There are 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States and they are our friends, neighbors, colleagues, family members, and so much more. That is what represents the beauty of this photo-focused campaign. It reminds the world that our community members living with HIV are living multi-faceted lives – no different from anyone else. This concept is simple yet incredibly powerful. That is why for the past three years, Positively Aware has linked their campaign with Let’s Stop HIV Together, a campaign launched by the CDC to raise awareness about HIV and its impact on the lives of all Americans.
So, how will you take your best shot tomorrow? You don’t need to tell me… I’ll be checking out the hashtag #adaywithHIV to see what pics are being posted across the internet. Keep an eye out for mine too. When posting to social media, remember to include a caption describing your picture, along with a date and location. You can learn more about the campaign by checking out the website adaywithhiv.com. Also, keep track of everything by following along on social media using the links below:
This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.