It has been 36 years since HIV was identified on June 5, 1981. Millions of people have been impacted by this disease, with gay and bisexual men, particularly young African American gay and bisexual men being the most affected.
Today, more people are living longer with HIV than ever before. Some survivors have lived half their lives with HIV/AIDS. While that alone is reason to celebrate, long-term survival with the disease has also created some unexpected challenges.
On Jan. 27, long-term survivors are gathering in South Florida to share their experiences and strategies. It is part of The Reunion Project, a weekend of learning, networking and socializing focused on long-term survivors who are thriving with HIV and AIDS.
The Reunion Project was founded in 2015 by long-term HIV survivors Matt Sharp and Jeff Berry, who recognized that there was an entire group of individuals who had survived the epidemic, but in many ways have been left behind by the community that they helped to build. The Reunion Project provides a space for HIV survivors to come together and honor the fact that even though they have weathered great adversity and tremendous loss, many have come through the experience with a certain degree of resilience. Sharp and Berry felt these stories deserve to be told, and shared, to help those who may need help in finding their way back out of isolation, or depression, or post-traumatic stress that came as a result of surviving the epidemic.
“The degree to which you participate is up to you,” Berry said. “Some people like to come just for the educational components of the program, and may not feel as comfortable sharing experiences of friends who they've lost, or who are no longer here, because it's just too painful. And that's okay. It's up to each individual who attends what they take away from the day.”
Friday evening will open the summit with a cabaret called "The Show Must Go On" directed and produced by Ed Sparan, featuring music and scenes focused on thriving. “We are really excited that the local host committee has put together an entire weekend of events,” Berry said.
Saturday will be The Reunion Project South Florida Conference. This is a full-day conference with invited national and local workshop presenters, opportunities for sharing stories and strategies from long-term survivors. One of the presenters is Dr. David Fawcett, who is well known in South Florida for his work in promoting gay men’s health and wellness. His talk will focus on skills to strengthen resilience in long-term survivors. There will also be time for identifying next steps and action planning for continued engagement beyond the conference experience.
Sunday will be a Brunch Tour of the World AIDS Museum and a Community Forum for next steps for addressing the needs for Long-Term Survivors in our community.
With support from Bristol-Myers Squibb and TPAN, an AIDS service organization in Chicago which publishes Positively Aware magazine, The Reunion Project has been to Chicago, Palm Springs, CA, Philadelphia, and now South Florida.
Approximately 100 people have registered thus far for the South Florida conference. To register or find out more information, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/the-reunion-project-south-florida-conference-thrive-summit-weekend-registration-30354072849.