Site icon

+TALK: ABRAHAM JOHNSON

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and HIV/AIDS activist Abraham Johnson.

KARL
HIV fact and fiction, tag, you’re it.

Hello there, welcome to +Talk on Plus Life, where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. My guest today is Abraham Johnson. He’s recently been listed as one of Poz 100 amazing young activists. Hey Abraham, good to see you.

ABRAHAM
Good to see you too.

KARL
Congratulations on that honor, by the way. That’s a big deal.

ABRAHAM
Yes. Thank you, thank you.

KARL
Of course. So you work with a group called Treatment Action Group where it sort of goes by the name TAG. What is TAG? Why is it important for folks like us who are living with HIV?

ABRAHAM
Yes. So TAG stands for Treatment Action Group. A TAG is a large independent activist think tank focus on mobilizing communities through research oriented information. So basically we are at the forefront of all things HIV policy, all things HIV research, all things TV research. And we do that through providing research information to communities in a lay friendly way. So that’s to just summarizes what Treatment Action Group is.

KARL
Talk to me in everyday talk, how does what you you guys do at TAG help me living with HIV?

ABRAHAM
Definitely. So I always think of TAG as a change agent. And I say that because there’s so much research that happens around HIV prevention, HIV treatment, and what TAG does, we take that information and we make sure that it is number one, accessible to communities and people living with HIV, but we also play devil’s advocate. Oftentimes there are so many marginalized people left out of these discussions and even research trials. As a black gay man living with HIV, I always, I’m on the lookout to see, okay, did you all do community engagement? Did you all focus on a priority population? And that’s what TAG does, we make sure that all gaps are filled in the space of research and we do it by providing accurate information. So each day I get a chance to learn something new, but also create change.

KARL
And that’s really important. And we know, especially in black and brown communities here in the United States, more so than ever, because HIV rates continue to climb, don’t they?

ABRAHAM
Yes. So the CDC released, I think it was like in 2016, that one in two African American black gay man will contract HIV.

KARL
When you hear that statistic, what does that make you feel?

ABRAHAM
I get frustrated. I get frustrated for so many reasons. There’s so much information out there number one, and also there’s ways to prevent HIV. So I get frustrated because somewhere along the line, I don’t know from the top down, someone missed something, right? Whether it be providing accurate information to communities, whether it be doctors not being culturally responsive, but somewhere along the lines, people aren’t doing enough and they’re not taking it seriously. And it also, it makes me scared. It makes me scared because I know, as a person living with HIV, I know the experiences that I have had. And that’s why I advocate, because I don’t want any other black gay man or black people in general to like live with HIV. I think that is, when I say live with HIV, I mean, test positive for HIV, because there are so many prevention methods out there. So I get sad because I wanna change the narrative.

KARL
And it’s important that they, it’s all good and well talking about treatment. And you know, we talk about you equals you all the time, which is phenomenal and is a game changer, but you know there are some that argue, well, if I don’t have access to the medicine, then that’s unachievable for me. And the reality is you can get the medicine, you can get on the treatment. There really is nothing that should stop you from getting access to that, is there?

ABRAHAM
Well, I wish it was that simple. So I’m from rural Georgia, I’ve been in Georgia. I reside in Durham, North Carolina, but unfortunately I not all the playing field is equal. We have an equity issue, we have an racism issue. We have so many systemic issues that prevent people from getting these life saving medications and life saving prevention options. So I would like to say that it was that easy but we have a lot of work to do really around addressing access.

KARL
And as you said, it’s from the top down, but it’s also really important at the community level, at the grassroots level, which is really what your focused on, is to make sure that I guess people are getting the right information because so many people still think it’s 1984 when it comes to HIV, especially in those communities, right?

ABRAHAM
Yes. One of the things that I always am like doing, I’m always on lookout for is opportunities to really provide factual information to people that look like me. Prime example, I can give a real life example. So I have a friend, he’s a platonic friend, and we were going to the gym. We go to the gym together. And he recently met a partner and he raved about the partner. He was like, “Oh my God, he’s so fine.” you know. Then he calls me and he says, “Abraham, he has HIV. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. And you know it’s such a, you know, it’s just a huge undertaking, and I don’t know if I wanna get on prep.” Basically, the stigma began to kind of show around how he viewed HIV, but he called me because he knew that I worked in HIV and I instantly began to say, “Hey, there are so many things that you can do. There are several discordant couples”. I told him like you know that you can get on prep, if he’s taking his medication as prescribed, the chance of you getting HIV is like–

KARL
Zero, it’s zero.

ABRAHAM
Zero, right? So I be like, hey, so I had to literally pump the brakes. But also the reality is though was that like, in that moment, a friend that I really was like building a relationship with, I was like, “Wow, you have some internal stigma.” And it kind of like, it hurt me because of his framework around what he thought HIV was. He still looked at it as such a vow disease and such like a horrible thing. And this is somebody that I interact with daily. And I just, it frustrated me because he didn’t know my status, he just knew that I worked at HIV and it’s like I’m providing him with information but those lived experiences and me being able to provide him that information, it helped but also made me realize we have so much work to do, and it starts with our inner circle. This is somebody that I thought, I still think highly of but I think he has a lot of learning to do around HIV. So do I count him out? No. What I did was provided him information. I sent him some information from TAG, like, “Hey, you should join this webinar.” So it just makes me like, as frustrated as I am, it makes me also realize that there is work to be done.

KARL
There is work to be done. And the fact that you’re having those conversations with your friends, let alone what you do for your job, knowledge is power, right?

ABRAHAM
Right. I feel like the more people know about HIV treatment, HIV prep, HIV vaccines, you know, like research, I think there’s an opportunity for people to really be engaged in research, clinical research. Just the more we learn about it and kind of shift the narrative. I talk a lot about making sure that everyone is at the table and make sure that everyone is kind of like in those spaces that have opportunities to learn.

KARL
Right. But you know, all this clinical research that goes on, it’s a lot of science talk. And for the average Joe, myself included, I go, woosh, and it goes over my head and I kind of zone out, which is irresponsible on a certain level, but when you start talking all these numbers and these, it’s just over, it’s some what I find overwhelming, and I think a lot of people then just put their head in the sands. How can we simplify it? I mean, I think something like you equals you is a really simple message. It’s so simple. Undetectable equals untransmissible, done. How do you guys sort of simplify what’s really important scientific information and make it palatable to your friends in the community?

ABRAHAM
Great question. I think the first thing I do, I always, I read it myself. I read it, and I instantly look for those words that like I have no idea what this means. Right?

KARL
Yeah.

ABRAHAM
And literally, I work with researchers, and I ask them, explain this to me as though you were explaining it to your grandmother, explain it like a person off the street would do. And once I understand it, I then translate into how I would interpret it, how my friends would interpret it. So it’s all about working collectively. I think that oftentimes when you think about community engagement and how we engage communities, we have to make sure that communities are part of the process at the very beginning. So why do I have to ask the research after he sends out a report about his information? Why not include me in the process when you’re writing it? Just the simple things is just being more inclusive and intentional about engaging communities from the front, from the beginning.

KARL
Yeah. Well, Abraham, as you said, a lot of work to be done, but at least it is being done and it’s being done by great people like you. Thank you so much for taking the time to join me +Talk today.

ABRAHAM
Thank you.

KARL
Absolutely. If you want more information about what we’ve discussed in today’s episode, check out the website, plusifemedia.com. And remember you can follow us across social media platforms, we are @pluslifemedia. Until next time, take care of yourself and each other. We’ll see you soon.

Exit mobile version