December 1st was an official observance of World AIDS Day. On that day, many organizations and groups participated in various activities and will continue to do so in the coming months. In the Roanoke Valley Area of rural northeastern North Carolina, a newly formed non-profit organization, A Better Chance A Better Community, is partnering with others on a year- long campaign called, Let’s Paint the Town Red. We applaud them for their efforts and look forward to collaborations in 2017. GBDF vows to return to an element of our mission to focus on HIV/AIDS because it was the very core and basis of our formation.
Each year during this time in particular, I think of my brother and dear friend, the late Gregory Brazil Davis, who died of AIDS in March 2000. In the months prior to his death we talked about AIDS and how it affected him and his feelings about medications, namely AZT; the harsh effects of that drug on his body and; moreover, what kind of legacy he wanted to leave behind. What stood out most vividly for me in remembering Gregory was his last visit home to Garysburg, NC in 1999 for the Christmas Holidays which was undoubtedly his very favorite time of the year. He was very weak, struggling with his rapidly declining health, but insisted that I drive him to visit friends and family who he knew he would be seeing for the very last time. Despite it all, Gregory greeted everyone with a smile and his usual jovial manner that would sometimes leave you laughing uncontrollably. He said to me while in the car as I drove him to his next desired destination, “Kookie (my nickname), you know if I had cancer it would not be a problem sharing this with people, but I have AIDS and I know that people here don’t know how to handle this and I will be judged.” My heart sank at that very moment to what may have been a hard core reality at that time.
Even today this conversation still resonates so clearly with me because of the continued stigma that is associated with AIDS even despite the continued focus on awareness, education, outreach, advances in treatment, and it now being classified as a “chronic disease”. As GBDF President, this reinforces the need to address stigma and shame as it relates to health disparities in rural northeastern North Carolina and beyond. It serves as a catalyst for planning and hosting a 2017 Community Stigma Symposium that will likely be a starting point for greater awareness and discussion.
For nearly two weeks after his passing, I recall getting in my car leaving work heading home on 29 North/Colesville Road in Silver Spring, MD and the tears would form in my eyes each day as I grieved the loss of my youngest brother. But gradually those tears gave way to smiles and outright laughter because of incredible memories and the sheer joy that we experienced spending time together, sharing stories about family, sharing a great meal that either he would meticulously prepare or one at a great restaurant in mid-town or Buckhead, and of course, seeing a great play or musical at one of his favorite spots, the Fox Theater in Atlanta. I often wonder about how he would feel about his legacy, the Gregory B. Davis Foundation, as well as the current state of HIV/AIDS and other health disparities in the U.S. and globally. I think he would extremely proud of GBDF and would vehemently exclaim that, “there’s still so much work to be done and many more unchartered paths we must take”.
I also share this in memory of the late Duane L. Wade, GBDF Board Member, who also knew the struggles, challenges, and opportunities as a person living with AIDS.
Yours in the Struggle,
Edna Davis-Brown, GBDF