Red Pump Stories: Celebrating National HIV Testing Day with Kamaria Laffrey

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Do you know how important it is to get tested for HIV?

As proud supporters of the CDC’s #DoingIt campaign, we encourage every man and woman to get tested as the first step toward preventing transmission. It is a priority and should be on everyone’s list of to-dos THIS SUMMER.

At Red Pump, we’ve been blessed to feature women all over the world who advocate the importance of getting tested and how people can protect themselves. This month, we are happy to share with you the story of Kamaria Laffrey, an international advocate, speaker and consultant working on HIV decriminalization, treatment adherence, and women and girl’s empowerment of health.

Look below, and take a moment to read how Kamaria embraces active testing, healing and inspiration by living victoriously.

Sincerely,
A girl with Red Pumps

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Red Pump: Why is it important for women to speak openly about HIV?

Kamaria: I think that it’s important for women living with HIV because we know first-hand the issues that are being faced, what life would be like without those issues and have insight into the needs that could improve services that we currently receive (and in some places don’t). The topic of HIV is important for all women to speak about because I believe that testing is important! HIV impacts us differently than men socially, emotionally, psychologically, financially and politically. It will take a united front of women living with HIV and women impacted by HIV to truly bring about the change that we seek and cast a light on the shadow of stigma that cripples our health.

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Red Pump: How has HIV/AIDS affected your life and family?

Kamaria: I was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 after giving birth to my daughter. I had no prenatal care because I tried to hide my pregnancy during the first two trimesters while weighing the option to terminate the pregnancy. Had I never given birth to my daughter, I would have never been tested willingly because I didn’t think HIV applied to me. Twelve years later, she is still the reason I am motivated to push through days of wanting to give up, encourage people to not only know their status but empower those living with HIV to come out of the shadows and stay consistent with treatment. HIV is my life passion that is bittersweet, but I wouldn’t change a thing on this journey, as it has taught me to embrace healing, by giving inspiration (in forgiveness) and living victoriously.

Red Pump: What has been your biggest challenge as a woman living with HIV?

Kamaria: My biggest challenge has been dealing with the person who placed me in the situation to contract the virus. I self-reflect often and have recently learned that I have blocked out the emotional state I was in during that time period. Even though I have “journaled” and told my story often, I look back and realize the night that I met the man that I contracted the virus from and the day I was diagnosed. Overcoming that has meant retracing my steps. I recently created a Facebook support page to include seven people that were in my life in the lowest of times. I then took a road trip back to the city and college I lived in, walked the campus, visited the old apartment and ultimately stood in the exact spot where I met the young man for our first “date.” It was in that moment that I heard a quiet voice tell me “You’re safe now.” It was in that moment I realized that I had never felt safe due to other circumstances that occurred with me attending college and being so far from home for the first time. I know that all these years I have spent healing and being transparent so that I could educate others to prevent them from repeating a mistake that will lead them to them living with HIV.

Red Pump: What resources have you received to empower or encourage you about your diagnosis?

Kamaria: At the time of my diagnosis, all I had was my family and prayer. No support groups, websites, books, or blogs were offered to me. In hindsight, I believe that this was because I lived in a rural area where resources are limited and advocacy was not widespread. Since then, I have searched for help by connecting with people in nearby towns, some four hours away that are doing innovative things to educate the public, and various college campuses that offer activities to encourage students to know their status. Additionally, I have learned that each time I speak, attend an event or encourage people to get tested, I take another step toward knowing what my purpose is as a women diagnosed with HIV.

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Red Pump: Do you use social media or blogging to share your message? If so, how have your followers/social community responded to your story?

Kamaria: Yes, MySpace was how I first publicly shared I was living with HIV. HA!!! I now have a Facebook organization page (emPOWERed Legacies), Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. My social community has provided immense, radical, loving, overwhelming and astounding support with laughs, encouragement and them sharing with me their experiences as well. Lastly, one tool I utilize privately is video journaling. I one day will share them with the public, but I enjoy being able to go back and look on where my train of thought was based on a specific health issue or personal circumstance – plus I have a visual of how HIV may or may not be impacting my physical appearance.

Red Pump: What’s on the horizon for you and envision for the future? 

Kamaria: Only God knows. Where I am now is a vast difference from where I was last year. Last summer, I was in Geneva for the first time working on dialogue tools for women living with HIV (SeeUs: Women Take a Stand on HIV) and during the summer of 2015, I worked part-time at a private school for the summer. Even in that moment, being confined to a desk or phone for the majority of my day, my story still comes up. So, I know whatever is on the horizon, my work in HIV will always be in the mix. In terms of the future, I envision even after there is a cure, sharing my story to encourage individuals to redefine their legacy will not be hindered by the life they were born into, but to create their own future by acknowledging positive resources and choices. I see myself with another child, finishing my graduate degree (I’m still working on my bachelor’s…Jesus take the wheel), and touring to college campuses with my novel. Some of that is in near future and some of it is long-term, but it’s the simple things that make me happy. The dream that scares me and excites me the most is becoming a non-profit and building something in my community that has substance for women living with HIV and sharing with women how important it is to get tested.

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Red Pump: What do you want women to take away from your story?

Kamaria: I want women to understand that their beauty doesn’t stop with circumstances of life. I want women to know that even when it hurts the most, there is purpose in their tears, and it’s an opportunity for growth. HIV doesn’t stop that, losing a job doesn’t stop that, being single when you don’t want to be doesn’t stop that, and being a woman doesn’t stop your purpose. I live life abundantly by finding victories in the storm.

Red Pump: Why do you Rock the Red Pump?

Kamaria: I Rock the Red Pump because bringing something fun, fashionable and feminine into a conversation that tends to be heavy, uncomfortable or controversial, makes it so much easier. It also helps to include others in the conversation by bringing a call to action to get tested, asking others to wear red pumps and showing a united front among women on an issue that impacts them greatly. Most importantly, I Rock the Red Pump because as a woman living with HIV, I am grateful to those who utilize the red pump to bring women out of the shadows of darkness.

If you would like to learn more about the #DoingIt Campaign, click here for additional resources, visit the testing center locator, and check out their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram platforms. Get informed. Be encouraged. #ActAgainstAIDS

To find a testing site near you, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636); visit cdc.gov/DoingIt; or text your ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948).

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