“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography
I’m Ashley Quinn, Empower Missouri’s newest hire as Coordinator of Organizational Outreach, from our Springfield Chapter and our MO HIV Justice Coalition. I had the great privilege of attending the nation’s second ever HIV is Not a Crime Training Academy (#HINAC2016) in Huntsville, AL this May. Thank you to the Missouri Foundation for Health’s grant which provided funds for this adventure.
HIV is often thought of as a white gay man’s disease – but we spent a lot of time talking about how HIV and the laws that criminalize a virus affect young black men, trans women of color, heterosexual women/sex workers, our armed forces and immigrants. On a recent conference call, a sociologist has reported that there have been at least 119 people convicted under HIV specific statutes in Missouri law since 1991 – which is the highest in the nation. We also heard stories of success from states that have successfully changed their harmful laws. I saw intersecting threads running across many of the topics Empower Missouri works for justice in.
Our Springfield chapter is joining with other local organizations to do a summer book study on The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. We see the overarching disparate impact of our hyper-criminalized world, where situations that should be handled from a public health perspective, like HIV, drug use, and mental illness are so frequently handled with handcuffs and jail cell bars. And we see that those marginalized in our society have the slimmest resources and become targets of biased policing, prosecutions, and imprisonment.
I stood in an auditorium where I was the minority, where most attendees were PLHIV (People Living with HIV), but I wasn’t in a room of “sick” people. As we left the conference I saw a critical mass of activists who were encouraged and emboldened to go back to their home states with new connections, new networks, new resources and a renewed spirit to work for justice. As we chanted the quote from the top of this post, we were empowered.
To join our MO HIV Justice Coalition or our book study in Springfield, contact Ashley at Ashley@empowermissouri.org or 417.425.6251.
Coordinator of Organizational Outreach