Billy Eugene Willis reflects on recent history. “Crazy how much can change in a year.”
He owns his own company and most of his clients know about his HIV advocacy and status, something he never imagined. He posted on Facebook in anticipation of today, “I really am so lucky in so many ways. I can’t wait to submit what my day with HIV looks like this year. Stay tuned y’all and don’t forget to follow your dreams no matter what.”
Willis, who grew up in North Carolina, is Cherokee/Seminole on his dad’s side and Lumbee on his mom’s. “My dad’s side was really close and I helped take care of my grandma when she couldn’t take care of herself. I lived in Robeson County at the time, which has the largest Native American population east of the Mississippi.”
So family has always been paramount.
1:15 PM Burlington, NC #ADayWithHIV
The idea for A Day with HIV came to Rick Guasco over one weekend in 2010. “I thought there should be a campaign that reminded people that HIV & AIDS are still serious health issues for everyone — regardless of your HIV status — and that we need to overcome the fear, ignorance and stigma associated with it. That’s a message for everyone, so, this campaign should be for everyone. And it should be visual. Suddenly, A Day in the Life of America to mind.”
@jayhawkridgeif one won’t treat u right there are thousands more in ur local area that will bestie ##hiv ##uequalsu ##stigma ##boyswillbeboys♬ add my snap zainabhussai910 – jack_grealish_is_smexy
Guasco was inspired by “A Day in the Life of America.”
“America” was a photojournalism project in the 1980s where about 200 photographers were assigned to capture 24 hours in the lives of people throughout the United States.
@jayhawkridgeHi just dropping in to say if you’re struggling with something ily and it’s okay to take time to figure urself out ❤️ ##hiv♬ original sound – slow it reverb
“What better way to make an anti-stigma campaign than to make it about everyone?” he thought. “I thought the idea of having photos that are taken all on the same day gives it a little excitement while capturing personal moments in people’s lives. That’s why a key part of A Day with HIV is that people include a caption that details what time and where they took their photo — and what inspired them to take that picture. In fact, a tag line I’ve used for A Day with HIV is, ‘Everyday moments in extraordinary lives.’”
“As beautiful as some of the images are, I’m always moved by the stories that people share. Posting their picture is an opportunity to share their experience and to humanize life with HIV.”
Guasco is creative director of Positively Aware, an HIV treatment magazine that produces the annual campaign. Around 300 photos are submitted every year from about a dozen countries around the world, Guasco says. Many pictures are from Canada and England as well as Australia, Brazil, India, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and South Africa.
Every year, Guasco is “amazed and touched by the different people from different places and walks of life who have one thing in common and have decided to share their personal stories. And the one thing they have in common isn’t necessarily that they have HIV, it’s that they are affected by HIV. HIV knows no boundaries. A Day with HIV is about breaking down the boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them.’”
@jayhawkridgeThis is how it feels… all the time ❤️🙌🏼💪🏼 ##hiv ##uequalsu ##taylorsversion♬ original sound – Taylor Swift
One participant that sticks out is “a young woman from New York who first submitted her photo in 2011; it’s a selfie taken on an elevated train platform but only the top part of her face is visible, barely enough that you might recognize her. She’s sent in a photo nearly every year since then, and each picture reveals more of her — the rest of her face, her smile. In her 2014 photo, she’s standing on a train platform near Yankee Stadium, giving this ‘look at me!’ pose. It blows me away to see her journey of self-acceptance and happiness unfold in those pictures.”
Guasco and Brady Dale Etzkorn-Morris.
Guasco reflects on the enduring stigma of HIV and the meaning of A Day with HIV, “Ignorance, fear and stigma are the one constant about HIV. HIV is no longer a death sentence; we have medications we didn’t have even ten years ago that essentially make HIV a manageable condition” And yet, almost as many people today wrongly believe that you can get HIV from sharing a drinking glass from someone HIV-positive as did back in 1987. “You can begin to address fear and ignorance through education and information. But the way to deal with stigma is to make people realize they have more in common with the people they fear than they thought. You’re less likely to fear people who seem more like you.” Guasco says.
Everyday moments in extraordinary lives
Personal storytelling and photography come together for A Day with HIV, a social media-based anti-stigma campaign that portrays 24 hours in the lives of people affected by HIV. Set on a September day every year since 2010, people take a photograph of whatever they’re doing and post it to their social media, accompanied by a caption with the time and location, and what inspired them to take it, along with the hashtag #adaywithhiv.
This year’s online event is set for Wednesday, September 22.
“A Day with HIV is for everyone, because anyone can be affected by stigma, regardless of their status,” said Rick Guasco, creator of A Day with HIV and creative director of Positively Aware, a nonprofit HIV treatment and health magazine.
“Stigma can scare isolate and scare people into not getting tested or getting the treatment and care they need,” added Guasco, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1992. “A Day with HIV is meant to bring people together and show that we are like everyone else.”
Guasco noted that a number of friends and allies of people living with HIV submit photos. The campaign also draws photo submissions from all over the world.
“Some great photos get posted,” Guasco said, “but the real impact comes from the stories behind those images. Posting their picture is an opportunity for someone to share their story, and to humanize life with HIV.”
In addition to the posting pictures on their social media, participants can also upload them to adaywithhiv.com or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to published in the November + December issue of Positively Aware. A selection of high-resolution photos will be featured in the magazine; four images will be chosen for different versions of the cover.
A Day with HIV is produced by Positively Aware, which is published by TPAN, a Chicago nonprofit, community-based HIV/AIDS services organization.