February 29, 2008
VIRGINIA IS FOR C2EA LOVERS
Fordham, one of C2EA-Virginia's founders
As Greg Fordham sat on the Ryan White Community Planning Group in Norfolk, Virginia, he became increasingly frustrated by HIV/AIDS care providers dismissing the transportation needs in his community. Most people affected by HIV/AIDS live on one side of Norfolk but the services are on the other. "I got tired of other people deciding what was right for me and knowing what was wrong," said Fordham, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and also lost his legs during a car accident in 2003. "The reason we're discarded most of the time is because people don't realize it's you they're talking about. It's just 'those people, those people.' I became an activist when I realized I was one of 'those people' they were talking about."
Since that realization, Fordham has worked with other activists in Norfolk, Virginia to launch the state's Campaign to End AIDS chapter. In 2005, Virginia ranked tenth highest in annual reported cases of HIV, and black males in Virginia were nine times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS than white men, and black women were four times more likely than white women.
Virginia's official status makes it the 14th C2EA chapter. "We in Virginia needed a collaborative effort to get together and fight cohesively," said Janelle Parsons, who lives in Suffolk County Virginia, was diagnosed with HIV in 2003, and is also one of C2EA Virginia's founding members. Like Fordham, Parsons attended the presidential debate rally in Myrtle Beach and was inspired by the enthusiasm of C2EA members.
Fordham agreed that there needed to be a cohesive network of HIV-positive people in the state, "People don't put their heads together to set up a plan."
Fordham, 47, learned about C2EA after meeting national organizer Larry Bryant at a Staying Alive conference in New Orleans. Fordham's belief in what C2EA could accomplish was solidified during his first conference call, when people throughout the country were eulogizing former C2EA South Carolina co-chair Stephanie Williams, who died in October. Through C2EA, Williams and her friend Karen Bates spearheaded a powerful network of people with HIV/AIDS in South Carolina. That network was instrumental in securing millions for poor people with HIV/AIDS that ended the state's AIDS Drugs Assistance Program waiting list. "That just blew me away," said Fordham. "I knew I really need to be a part of this."
While most of the members of the C2EA Virginia chapter are concentrated in the Norfolk-area, the group hopes to expand to the eastern shore of the state, where the rural population is often forgotten about—but to make sure that 'those people' are speaking for themselves. "You never know what the injustices are in other places," said Parsons, who also works for the Norfolk AIDS service organization ACCESS. "I'd like to find out what they are first and work to mobilize with them. There's no limit to what we can do."