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Positive Voices

EPISODE #214 - WAD Live Recordings (FROM brunch)


Live, from Montgomery County, It’s Positive Voices!

March 11, 2024. 36:49

Tei and Malachi From The Past are finally here on our first-ever live show filmed on World AIDS Day 2023! In this live environment, they’re joined by four guests: Melkam Woldamanuel and Karen Blanton, who share their experiences as HIV-positive Black women, then Shania Thomas and Kathryn Kelly, who talk about how they address HIV as healthcare providers. The life joy and knowledge in this episode have to be heard to be believed. Relive the magic with us!

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This program contains language and subject matter that some audiences may find triggering or sensitive. Our purpose is to encourage engagement in care and treatment; however, please consider your well-being before continuing.


Malachi Stewart: Welcome to another episode of Positive Voices, to everyone in the DMV Beyond, and we are here at the Civic Center in Montgomery County. Y'all make some noise for our live audience today, celebrating World AIDS Day.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yeah.
Malachi Stewart: And again, I'm here with my beautiful co-host. Let everybody know who you are.
Tei Pearson-Hall: What's up y'all? I'm Tei Pearson-Hall. I'm the newest co-host for Positive Voices Season 2. Team Nosy outside.
Malachi Stewart: Team Nosy.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yes, sir.
Malachi Stewart: As my co-host would say, we are outside, and it's good to be at yet another World AIDS Day celebration. You all weren't a part of the entire program, so you don't know, but I have to say this quote from Carmi Washington Flood. She really talked about how we don't make quilts anymore for World AIDS Day, because we become the quilts. And so we know here at Positive Voices that every diagnosis is a story, and those stories are what help inform how we give care, how we adhere to medication, and how we move forward in ending the epidemic.
And so we have two beautiful guests, because we're focusing on women. We talk a lot. You all hear the statistics. Y'all hear the statistics. We're telling you how many women are becoming positive, that their second most at risk. We learned today that of the diagnosis for women here in Montgomery County, 91%, more than 91% of them are Black women, and so we want to have these Black women share their stories. Introduce yourselves, tell them who you are by name and how long you've been HIV positive.
Melkam: My name is Melkam Woldamanuel, originally from East Africa, Ethiopia. And I've been living in the United States for 28 years. I've been positive for 27 beautiful years.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Can y'all [inaudible 00:01:49] it up?
Karen: My name is Karen Blanton. I've been positive for 33 years. Been with Montgomery County Health Department for all of that time. I have a child who was born positive. She's doing great. She's 33 years old. I came down from New York City and didn't know I was positive until my daughter was diagnosed with HIV. We spent a lot of time at Children's Hospital trying to get her well, and today she's doing wonderful.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yes. Thank you both for coming and sharing the stage with us today. You both have wonderful, impactful stories of your journey, and we're going to get into that today. But I wanted to start with you, Ms Melkam. If you could give us a little bit about... You and I had a conversation and you shared some things with me that I think they need to know, because y'all nosy, right? Yeah. I think that they would like to know about your journey, because you came from Ethiopia to America, and then you had a journey that led you to your diagnosis. Could you share with them a little bit about what that looks like for you?
Melkam: Yes. I came in this country when I was 15, going to 16. And that is a circumstances, and it had happened when I was 16 years old. And actually in the end of my 16, getting ready to turn into 17, that's when I went to get tested for my green card with my mother. That's when before I even found out, my mother have to found out about my diagnosis. So I was even scared and about the situation had happened, because we was not allowed to step outside the house and stuff like that. So when my mother came, say we got to go back to the doctor, it was, I never forget, it was on Piney Branch on Georgia Avenue, that building, I still play that number, matter of fact. So when we went back there, and I remember the doctor said, you had tested positive for HIV. I said, what does that even mean? Not knowing about this situation at all. And I turned around and looked at my mother, I knew that was the day was my rebirth day for me. And so I have to have that concept to understand and study well, and about this blessing. I don't even call it... Guys, to be honest, I don't even call this a disease and I call it my blessing. People know that about me.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I'm glad you touched on that, because that touched me when you said that on the phone.
Melkam: Thank you. And I know I have to start reliving again. I have to get to know myself again. And I give a gratitude for my creator, gave me the strength to do what I'm doing today, because it was not easy being a teenager and I have to get to know myself, give the strength, and I was giving other people so I can continue with this journey. So thank you.
Malachi Stewart: Can I ask you a question? Because when we were doing the pre-interviews and you were saying, and I got the notes from T that you had said it was your blessing, my first initial response as a person living with HIV for 15 years was just like, huh, I never heard anybody say that before. And then when I thought about it, I realized I wouldn't be doing the work I was doing if I wasn't HIV positive. This is not what I planned for myself. I don't even know nobody who do this work, some people, but rarely do I meet people who really are enthralled in the work who planned it. It was sort of like, not HIV being my purpose, but I found my purpose through kind of that push. Is that why you call it your blessing?
Melkam: Yes. Because if I take this as something's happened to me, not this things happens for me so I can do the work, and I would not want another teenager little girl go through what I went through. So I have to be reflection. That's what I call every woman I come across, you are my reflection as I am your reflection. So what you see in me is because it already exists in you.
Malachi Stewart: Yes. You talking heavy.
Melkam: Thank you.
Tei Pearson-Hall: You know what, Melkam, before we get to Ms Karen, I wanted to hit on something that I thought Melkam was going to say today. When we were on the phone, she said, I used to think why me? She says, I used to think, why me? Do you remember what you told me?
Melkam: Yes. Why not me?
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yeah. She says, why not me? Not why me? The focus is why not me, and using that for her greater purpose. And so thank you. Thank you for that.
Melkam: Thank you.
Malachi Stewart: Thank you so much. Ms Karen, you have a story, child, and I'm ready to unpack this.
Karen: I wouldn't even know where to start.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Because I already know it. I'm going to let you get into it, because she told me some things on the phone.
Malachi Stewart: Let's start with you're pregnant.
Karen: Pregnancy.
Malachi Stewart: You're pregnant. Was this your first child?
Karen: No, this was my second.
Malachi Stewart: This was your second child. Tell me about that pregnancy, what happened, what you found out, and how that led to you being here today.
Karen: Well, I was living the life of a moving star in Manhattan. I was all over the place, so I got pregnant.
Tei Pearson-Hall: She was a superstar. Yeah.
Karen: And I called my mom. I said, mom, I'm pregnant, I need to come home. And she said, sure, not a problem. But I was on a program, a drug program in Manhattan, and they had a program where my mom would have to come and sign for the baby and all that, because I wasn't allowed to take her. But anyway, she made 2 trips. We went to court. We went through that whole process, and I think that's where Grandparents Day came about, because of all the grandparents that were coming to get these kids, blah, blah, blah.
But anyway, so we came here, came back home here. I'm a graduate of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. I went to George Washington University for a while. And we came back here and took the baby to the hospital, because what I noticed, she had swollen lymph nodes and they said, oh, she's HIV positive. So I said, well, I better get tested. At the time, my first child was doing... With a psychologist at Dennis Avenue, and I noticed they had an HIV clinic there. I said, well, let me go in here and get tested. And sure enough, with Dr Wallman and all the other fantastic people at Dennis Avenue, they surrounded me and surrounded my child, and we went to a children's hospital. They had a nice program there for children with HIV. And for a good 6 months, I was living at the hospital with my daughter. We joined at the cab, where I met some wonderful people, who are in the audience now, and we've been friends ever since. Our kids grew up together. They went to camps together and all of that. But it was hard, because I was still doing drugs and alcohol, that's what led to all of that. And I had to go to rehab treatments and finally decided enough was enough, and I love my kids more than I love that lifestyle.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Thank you for sharing that.
Malachi Stewart: Absolutely. What was the moment that you found that you were positive and sort of give us the circumstances around that?
Karen: The moment was when I went to Dennis Avenue Health Department.
Malachi Stewart: And you tested.
Karen: And I tested.
Malachi Stewart: What made you go and have the test?
Karen: Because of my daughter. When she was a baby, they diagnosed her first. I didn't know.
Malachi Stewart: How old was she when she was diagnosed?
Karen: Infant. She was an infant.
Malachi Stewart: So you were HIV positive and pregnant. Did you have any HIV tests while you were pregnant at all?
Karen: No.
Malachi Stewart: Your entire pregnancy?
Karen: Whole entire pregnancy, no test.
Tei Pearson-Hall: You know what? Her experience resembles a lot of our experience.
Malachi Stewart: Yeah, I know you have a child. Were you tested while you were pregnant?
Tei Pearson-Hall: No. I have one biological kid and I have 7 angel babies, and on all of those trips to the OB, never got an HIV test, never had a conversation about HIV or AIDS. And I think it was probably presumptive when I asked for STD tests at the GYN, it was, but you're married, because I had 2 husbands before too, but that's another episode. Y'all see that later in the season. But thank you for sharing that, because from what I heard is that you pregnant, you had a baby, your baby had some issues and had to go to the doctor. You as mom took your baby to the doctor, baby got tested, was positive. Mom, you might want to go get tested. So then you went and got tested, find out you're also positive, while you're dealing with a new baby that is also positive.
Karen: It was rough. It was tough.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Y'all got that?
Karen: Because back during that time, it was so much sticking to my own family, kind of shunned us. My moms would put on gloves and stuff when she handled the baby. But over the years, overtime, she began to come to meetings with us and she would come to the cabs, and she learned a lot.
Malachi Stewart: Cabs are community advisory boards for people who don't know.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I was going to ask that. I thought it was a little [inaudible 00:11:32] or something.
Malachi Stewart: Girl, ain't nobody giving you no ride.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I be having to ask what the acronyms are.
Malachi Stewart: No, it's community advisory board. I can't imagine, so I have to ask what it was like. Sure, I mean, the average person is not running around as a wealth of knowledge on HIV. So you were learning about HIV, about a virus that you would be living with chronically, and also learning about how to take care of a child who's HIV positive. What was that like?
Tei Pearson-Hall: While also dealing with addiction.
Malachi Stewart: And also dealing with addiction. I mean, what was that just like?
Karen: Well, one day at a time, because she had a lot of health concerns. We had to do port-a-cath for her. We had to do G-tube feeding, and I had to learn to do all of that stuff on her. And nurse would come to the house once or twice a month, and we'd hold her down and do what we had to do. And like I said, all of that and in an alcoholic environment. So it was tough. Yeah.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Well, can I just honor for a second? I just want to honor sobriety. I want to honor a recovery.
Malachi Stewart: Yes.
Karen: 12 years.
Tei Pearson-Hall: 12 years she said. I'm 7 years on my recovery from prescription pain pills, and so I honor you.
Malachi Stewart: And we honor you.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Listen, she say one day at a time. I'm like second to second.
Malachi Stewart: Yes, for sure. Melkam, I want to circle back to you, because I know that we have a large Ethiopian community here in the district in the DMV. Questions I have, just as a person who's worked in the field for a long time, I know that culturally things are seen differently. You kind of talked about not being allowed to do certain things or the response to people in your community. What was it like having to be in a whole new culture, a whole new environment, a whole new country, and have to deal with that, have to deal with HIV and how we socially look at that here? And then also, your community from home is still here too, and those are different social standards. What was that whole thing like for you? What was that whole experience like for you?
Melkam: Yeah, like I was saying, and I had to literally relearn who I really am at the moment. So the fear, the stigma was real. It still is. Like I say, last year in this country, we just start wearing this mask when the pandemic hit. But in my country, in my community, we've been wearing mask as long as I remember, because you can't talk about this. You can't. So like now, my work in my community with the mental health and HIV prevention, and at first I literally talked to women to love yourself, honor yourself, be ready for the rejection first. We have to be ready for that instead of... So it was really hard, the secret. I remember my angel, my brother sitting right there, [inaudible 00:14:45] I have another brother. The day I wasn't ready to tell people, but the day I knew I was ready to come open when I told my brother, and I remember when he said, what do you mean? I was eating at the same table with you. But I was ready though. My strength was strong for the rejection. I expected that rejection. So that I always say that before any of us open our mouth to tell about our status, be ready within, be ready for the rejection.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I've never heard that. I've never heard the tip of being prepared for the rejection. I think that goes across the board though, for all kinds of stuff. If we can prepare for rejection, it makes it hit different.
Malachi Stewart: Absolutely. I can just say as a person and all of us being people living with HIV who are speaking in public platforms, when you come from an area, it wasn't always a sexy thing to talk about. It wasn't always okay. You have people who still, even though you're positive, it's okay, I'm not judging you. I'm like, girl, I ain't worried about you. You ain't got to affirm me in this. I'm good. I affirm myself. And I just am of the belief that we give people permission to accept us when we come in radically accepting ourselves. So I appreciate you saying that.
Melkam: Thank you.
Malachi Stewart: I do.
Tei Pearson-Hall: And I think from a space of someone who's not positive, but has been definitely impacted by the disease. I lost so many people that was close to me from the disease. My father had AIDS. I didn't know that until he was murdered. You feel me? And I lost Monica. You guys will learn about her within the season 2. So y'all got all these things to bookmark that website, we'll tell you later. But it means a great deal for me to sit on a platform and be able to sit on a panel with people that are living with HIV from someone who is not HIV, so that I can show other people it's not a contagious thing. Because it's also about breaking that narrative that it's something very contagious. Look, right? And so it's about bridging that gap of education, communication and just that holistic wraparound. And I just want to say that I honor you all, and everyone else that's in the room, that shares your status so openly without judgment, without fear of judgment. Because you show up for who you are to that space and people are going to like it, love it, or don't care. And so thank you for being who you are authentically.
Melkam: [inaudible 00:17:35]
Malachi Stewart: Both Ms Karen and Melkam, you all have such a light. And just before we transition in our segments, I just want to end with you all just having space and opportunity just to give a brief call to action to communities that you represent. You represent a community, you represent a culture of stigma that I'm not familiar with, and you so eloquently speak to that, Ms Karen as well. And so I just want you to stick a moment, call to action right into the camera, what would you say to the community?
Melkam: I think, and I plead for my community, know your status. When you know your status, that's when you start loving yourself, when you love yourself and you love your family. Once we really know about our status, that's when the love, the self-love, the family love, the community love starts. Know your status. Go get tested. Let's not even pay attention what people could and would've said about you. Once you know who you really are, you'll become a dangerous species in this world. Know your status. Know your status, my Ethiopian people.
Malachi Stewart: Period. Yeah, thank you.
Karen: Yes. I like to piggyback on what you said also, but after 33 years, you kind of get burned out. I'm going to be honest, I had a little break. I took about a 5-year hiatus from the field itself, but you have to keep it fresh, because it's still here.
Malachi Stewart: We trying to keep it fresh, Ms Karen. We trying to keep it fresh. And with that said, speaking about keeping it fresh, we want to show you all a clip. There was something that transpired in our... Dealing with women and talking about women, and women in pregnancy go hand-in-hand, there was a moment in an episode we did on HIV and pregnancy that really... It affected us. And when you see the clip, you'll see why. So turn your attention to the screens. We're going to show you the clip and we'll continue this conversation.
Speaker 5: The first thing that happens when you're pregnant here, as an HIV-positive woman, is you're declared high risk with immediate effect. And before that, even when I approached my OB-GYN, and this might not be everybody's experience and this is why I do what I do in terms of advocacy, is because my OB-GYN told me I had no right having children as an HIV-positive woman.
Malachi Stewart: As you can see, we're here with 2 new guests. We wanted to continue this conversation with 2 providers who work in the field, who are respected in the field. Y'all know these people in the room? Y'all know them? Okay. Got to make sure we show them love. Please introduce yourselves, let them know who you are, what field you work in, and why you're here today.
Shania: Hi, everybody. Hey, I'm Dr. Shania Thomas. My pronouns are he or she. I don't use they. I have been in the DMV almost 20 years. I'm a licensed clinical social worker, and I am the LGBTQ training specialist at the University of Maryland School of Public Health Prevention Research Center.
Kathryn: And my name is Dr. Kathryn Kelly. I'm an internal medicine physician here in Montgomery County. I'm the owner of Kelly Collaborative Medicine, a primary care clinic here in Silver Spring. I'm also a contractor with the county and work with healthcare for the homeless, providing primary care for our homeless residents and the homeless medical respite. And I've been here, this year is 26 years. I say that I'm 26 with 18 years experience.
Malachi Stewart: It's the owner for me though. The owner.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Hence the name in the company. [inaudible 00:21:17]
Malachi Stewart: Period.
Tei Pearson-Hall: So Malachi, before we get into these wonderful clinicians, I have a question for you.
Malachi Stewart: What's up?
Tei Pearson-Hall: So the last panel with our wonderful Ms Karen and Melkam, when we had that conversation about as Black women not going to... Well, going to the doctor and not having HIV tested. I watched your reaction. And so as a healthcare professional, how did that make you feel? To know that all of the work that you guys talk about in the office, it's not really being done out here in the streets, because we not getting tested unless we ask. So how you feeling about that?
Malachi Stewart: I'm going to be honest.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Let's go too, that's what we do here.
Malachi Stewart: But I want to ask, does anyone else have children? Both have children. During your pregnancy, did your providers test you without prompting for HIV or anything?
Shania: I was not, and my child's 5.
Kathryn: So I have 3 children. My oldest one I had when I was 15. So I can relate to some of the people on the stage, and I've talked about this before, that I could have been them in that environment. I don't remember at that point, but I do know with my last few I was, and I hope it's not just because I'm a physician that they tested me, but we did talk about the standard of care. It's supposed to be testing at the initial visit and then tested in the third trimester. If a patient had not been tested at all and had not received primary care, the standard is that they're tested on admission for labor and delivery. So it's disheartening to hear that so many people have not been tested. And if they were tested, because we said some people test and may not say so, I think it's important for us to discuss that we're testing for HIV, and so the patient is informed and then also to inform them of their results. We can't let them go into the situation and we're saying, oh, we're going to test you for this, but they're not giving any education before and after.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yeah. Thank you.
Malachi Stewart: Absolutely. And I'm glad that you mentioned, I wanted that before I gave my response, the standard.
Tei Pearson-Hall: It's the standard for me.
Malachi Stewart: As someone who has formerly worked in surveillance, it's disappointing, just from that level. It's just disappointing. But as a human being, [inaudible 00:23:33] work in, I think there needs to be a conversation, because I'm a public health professional, not a public health official. And so when the officials are in the room, when the people are watching the podcast, when they're hearing us go on public platforms and say, okay, so 1, 2, 3 out of the 4 women who are pregnant, who have had children on this stage are saying, or 3 out of the people who had children on this stage who have had children are saying, I wasn't tested. Because if our response to that is like, oh, that's a shame, I think that says how we feel just not about women, but about specifically women of color, specifically Black women. I think we are saying how we feel and how we initiate care. As a gay Black man, as a gay man, period, I'm browbeat with testing.
I got a tattoo. Now I've had HIV for 15 years. I've been undetectable for at least 10 of those 15 years.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Hello. Y'all better clap for my boo.
Malachi Stewart: We out here teaching and living it. And with that being said, I got a tattoo last year. I got a tattoo touched up. And my provider was like, oh, why didn't you wait until you got... Because you get tested every 6 months. And she was like, why you wait till you get your fresh results just to confirm that you were undetectable before you got that tattoo? She thought I was completely irresponsible. For that to be the response thing on top of me just because I'm gay, just because I'm Black, just because... But to see women, number 2, and to not even offer them a test, let them get through a whole pregnancy and you have to find out because your child tested positive, and then you didn't even test her. You're like, oh, maybe you should go get tested.
Tei Pearson-Hall: You should go get tested.
Malachi Stewart: I think we need to have a conversation. And when I say we need to have a conversation, y'all need to do better. And that's my response.
Shania: And can I also add a little.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Come on here.
Shania: A little extra. I am also a person that identifies as non-binary. So a lot of times people will make assumptions around my womanhood, around my femininity. So I think a part of the reason why I also did not get asked about HIV, because there was a assumption that my partner was masculine, that I was married, I was in a safe relationship. So why ask? You're pregnant, everything's fine. So I think it's also a conversation of... And it's not taking away from the experiences of Black women, but also navigating as a person who is femme-presenting, has to navigate a very binary healthcare system that I have to get services too. But I'm here, you're making assumptions, I'm not getting the care. And even when I ask for HIV tests, I have to convince them that I need it. It's just they're like, are you sure? Well, I mean, when's the last time you had sex? Who are you having sex with?
Tei Pearson-Hall: You're in a committed relationship, right?
Shania: What's the problem? And it's just like, but you're not... I'm literally asking you and my insurance is paying for this, can we get the ball rolling? So I want to also add that layer of... And within the minorities, we are definitely not getting asked about those questions because of the assumptions that are made around our relationships, our identities, et cetera.
Kathryn: I think that lends directly into inherent bias. Maryland is one of the few states where in order to get licensed, we have to do bias training. So having someone walk in in any state, whatever their condition is, we have to come from a blank place. We need to ask the questions and give them the appropriate care for the person entering the room, not just because they're a gay man. We shouldn't browbeat you about that. We talk about in all those other spheres, there's weight bias, there's age bias. We have to come in knowing that. And we know with Black women, not just in HIV, but when we talk about pregnancy, the complications from pregnancy in Black women are higher, the deaths during pregnancy in Black women are higher, and it's because of some of those inherent biases that exist. So part of what we hope, as physicians that we're doing as clinicians, is coming in from that blank place. And I challenge my clinicians and providers that are out there to really look at yourself and make sure that you're doing those things when you go into the room. We can only change ourselves, so we have to change our practices, like we said, and commit to doing better in this sphere.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Hey, Dr. Kelly, I'm going to need you to make the T-shirt. I'm going to need you to make a T-shirt with just that on it though, because... And so I think within a lot of conversations in a lot of rooms, the bias meets us there. And so for me, it's like crazy that that's even something that's being taught now, to sit your bias outside the door before you come into a room, that's a class, that's a training, that's a workshop. But what we know is that people can go do all of that and still come into the room who they are. So I think what you were saying, Dr. Thomas, of just being a voice, and advocating and saying, you're not going to talk to me like this, you're not going to do this, you're not going to do that. And like Malachi said, and find a new provider real quick. And then I think that holds their feet to the fire.
Malachi Stewart: And if I could say, because I do want to give grace and room for people to be human when it comes to bias, we all have it. And I can be critical of the fact that like, okay, I'm a gay, Black, femme man, so you see me as hypersexual. You assume this is a woman, so you see them as pure, they don't need it. I can critique that bias, but then when I look at my own bias and I have to confront myself, if you're doing this work and you're not confronting your own bias, you are in the wrong line of work, please find something else to do, because we constantly have to grow. And even with Dr. Thomas, when we had happy hour, you Shania, and I'm like, this is one of my butch queens, we out here talking, and I've never in my life thought of you as a woman in that space. And as soon as you're Dr. Thomas and we get on the stage, I immediately go back to that. We had a conversation the other day, I was like, I don't know why I do that. And can you talk a little about what it's like as a provider even navigating that space as someone who's non-binary, and what healthcare looks like in social determinants of health?
Shania: Absolutely. Shout out to knowing what you're getting into. I know that I'm going to get discriminated against when I walk in the door. Why is that? Because we're whole people. I am a person that, yes, I'm Black and non-binary, and queer, but I'm also from the south. My parents are very southern Baptists. I have preachers in my family. I know where that comes from. So I don't want to discredit people's identities when they come into the room but I want to challenge people. I know we're using these big words, DEI and decolonization. It's like, what does that even mean? Well, it means just going back and examining what did I learn? Is this helpful? Is this going to help make space for another person? How am I going to make sure that people are in the room and counted?
Again, just because I'm non-binary, I don't want to discount Black women in the room. But also, and shout out to my people who have been in my trainings, who have came up to me and said, I'm a Black woman and I don't like wearing dresses every day. Like, oh, I don't like doing those gender roles. Even for no matter how you identify, there's always something to decode, unlearn. And so I just come into the room knowing that we just come from a very binary world. We don't live in a world where we're not racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or transphobic, or queerphobic. We just live in a place to where we have to constantly unlearn, and that's growing, that's evolution. So I give grace, but I'm also going to keep you accountable for your actions, because people are dying.
Kathryn: And I was going to say, one of my patients told me best, they would say, trust, but confirm. You may trust your partner, but I'm going to confirm that they doing the things that they supposed to do.
Malachi Stewart: Yeah, you got to check.
Kathryn: We going to trust and confirm. And I think you hit on a lot of other things. In a lot of spaces right now, we're talking about health inequities. And part of it is, you need to find providers that have shared experiences. And like I said, so when I'm sitting up here listening to the stories, as a 15-year-old teenage parent, I could have been HIV positive at that point, because if you having unprotected sex to get pregnant, you having unprotected sex to get HIV. Okay. I could have also been in the realm of being HIV positive. My uncle died of HIV from IV drug use. So all of those things. I'm a healthcare provider. I could have been HIV positive because I got a needle stick in the hospital, that's a part of transmission as well. I could have been somebody before they were testing for HIV and blood and I got a transfusion, and I got positive in that way.
So I think we are looking for providers that have a shared experience. I'm the president for the Howard University Medical Alumni Association, and a big part of what we are trying to do is get more Black and Brown doctors out there to take care of Black and Brown patients. But I also think we have to get more non-binary doctors, LGBTQ doctors who have that shared experience, because they can also create those spaces. As allies, we have to create safe spaces so people feel comfortable coming in and talking to you about their sexual health. I got some patients in the audience, shout out to them. Hopefully I've created a space where you feel comfortable coming into my space and talking about your sexual health. And I also want to say one last thing about our aging population, our 65 and up and our post-menopausal women and men are out there enjoying their best life in every way possible. So I think when we are talking about Black women in that space, we also have to think about those who are no longer in a state where they can become pregnant, because they take out those barriers to preventing STDs and things like that. So our 65 and up population are some of the highest rates of STDs in the country, so we don't want to leave them out either.
Tei Pearson-Hall: They getting it in.
Malachi Stewart: We had a guest on our show, on the live show last night, say that they were 69, but still looking to 69. And I said, well shout out to you. I hope I'm still that-
Tei Pearson-Hall: As he was rubbing his velvet pants.
Malachi Stewart: Yeah. That's somebody I want to go to happy hour with. Tell me about that. I want you all... First of all, thank you for sharing. Thank you for being here. Before we close, I just want you to give your own call to action as providers who have shared experiences with these communities, a moment to speak both to the community and your colleagues. A quick call to action, whatever you feel really needs to be shared as we celebrate World AIDS Day.
Shania: It takes us all. It's all of our duties to be able to speak up and to say something, and to do something. And even if you are not a person of a certain lived experience or a certain identity, then find your place. There's a place for all of us. There's a role for all of us, even if it's in the work or even if it's in your private life. As a person who is negative and who takes prep, I talk to all of my friends about like, yeah, you too, girl. Yeah, you too girl. Yeah, let's make sure that we can find a prescription. Let's make sure we can find a doctor. So find your place. Just because you are not a part of a certain experience, doesn't mean that we don't need help and doesn't mean we don't need hands. We need community. We need each other. So step up, it's time.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Step up, it's time.
Kathryn: I think to everyone out there that is seeing patients from a medical standpoint, make sure you're testing. Don't be scared. Don't use it as a taboo. Test everyone. Ask the question, we going to test you for HIV today. I am committed to do better about that too and also committed to talking about prep. I want to give a shout out to Dr. Thomas on this, because mental health is a huge part of these inequities that we're talking about that lead to some of the behaviors we talk about when it comes to being high risk. And we also know that being high risk, like we said, it ain't about being high risk, anybody can get it. But when we have mental health concerns and there's not resources in the community for that, that also tends to be an inequity that leaves these other health concerns that we see. So get tested, get your provider to get tested, and challenge them to do the same and get others tested, and talk about prep.
Malachi Stewart: Awesome.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Great. Thank you all for just sharing your expertise with us. Thank y'all for being part of our live audience today, right?
Malachi Stewart: You've been amazing. Give yourself a round of applause.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Give yourself a round of applause. So listen, if you would like to catch up more, you want to check out season 2 of Positive Voices, you want to catch up on episodes of season 1 of Positive Voices, head to DCEndsHIV/podcast. Y'all got it? You going to check us out. If you would like more resources, you can head to, put in your zip code, wherever you at, put it in, it's going to list you some resources that you can connect with. And with that, we thank you for taking your time with us for Positive Voices, a live taping, baby.
Malachi Stewart: A live taping, baby.
Tei Pearson-Hall: We was outside in Montgomery County. World AIDS Day, Montgomery County. Thank y'all.
Malachi Stewart: Bye, everybody.

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Additional Episodes

New episodes weekly. Next release: February 6.

LinkU Health and Resources

LinkU is a free and easy-to-use resource to help you find local services, including help with HIVprevention and care. It is DC, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County’s goal to makesure everyone who lives, works, and plays in the DMV area can access the services they need.

Meet the Guests

Dr. Shanéa Thomas, LICSW

Dr. Shanéa Thomas, LICSW (He/She/Dr.) is a bold lecturer and seasoned scholar-practitioner with over 19 years of professional clinical social work experience in the Washington D.C. metro area. Dr. Thomas’s main commitment in the field is training and strategizing with social workers, educators, and service providers to build safer therapeutic and educational spaces for all people. This is especially true for those working in communities that are underserved and under-resourced, and those identifying as Black, Indigenous, people of color, and LGBTQI+ folks. Dr. Thomas has facilitated over 90 workshops centering on DEI needs, grief and loss, mental health, sex and gender, and LGBTQI+ populations. Dr. Thomas ended his 10-year position at the University of Southern California School of Social Work as a Senior Lecturer in 2022 to further the commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusivity through the University of Maryland School of Public Health as their LGBTQ+ Training Specialist and Assistant Clinical Research Professor. Dr. Thomas assists the Prevention Research Center in launching the Sexual and Gender Diversity Learning Community (SGDLC), their national training program using evidence-based tools to build LGBTQ+ competency in practice amongst mental health professionals. Dr. Thomas is also continuing the commitment to fighting for legacy and equitable care of those living with HIV and AIDS as a newly appointed Board of Directors member of the National AIDS Memorial. 

Dr. Kathryn Kelly

Dr. Kathryn Kelly is a Board-Certified Internal Medicine Physician in Silver Spring, Maryland. She is a two-time Howard University graduate, completing her undergraduate studies in 2001 and her Medical Degree in 2007. Dr. Kelly completed her Internal Medicine Residency at Washington Hospital Center and an additional year as one of three Chief Residents from 2007-2011.   
Dr. Kelly owns Kelly Collaborative Medicine, focusing on patient-centered primary care since 2016.  Additionally, Kelly Collaborative Medicine is contracted through Montgomery County to provide primary care to the homeless population at numerous shelters street homeless individuals through outreach efforts, and management of the Montgomery County Homeless Medical Respite.  Dr. Kelly sits on the Board of Directors for Girls Health Ed, an organization committed to fostering a world where girls can make informed decisions about their bodies and health, and is the President of the Howard University Medical Alumni Association Executive Board.  Dr. Kelly also serves as a commissioner on the Montgomery County Interagency Commission on Homelessness and is the representative to the Montgomery Cares Advisory Board for the Montgomery County Medical Society.  

Melkam Woldamanuel

Melkam Woldemanuel is a Montgomery County-based anti-stigma advocate dedicated to bringing the joy of self-acceptance to others. Although her advocacy focuses on Ethiopian diaspora communities in Montgomery County, her message is universal: shame and stigma are our common enemies.

Dr. Karen Blanton

My name is Karen Blanton. I was diagnosed in 1990. I started my activism before my husband died of AIDS in 2003. I’m also a cancer survivor. I left the field in 2016 to become a full-time caregiver for a close family member. I’m now a professional caregiver.

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