By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – As part of HIV/AIDS Advocacy Day, the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund invites the public to join HIV activists from across the state to a breakfast rally with author Paige Rawl, who was born HIV positive. The event will take place on Tuesday, March 20 at 8:30 a.m. at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame Event Center, 4040 N. Lincoln Boulevard, in Oklahoma City.
“Paige was born with HIV and will share her story of severe bullying by her peers and why it’s important for young people to understand the disease,” said David White, OACF Advocacy and Policy Associate. “Forty four percent of newly diagnosed Oklahomans in 2016 were under the age of 30.”
After being bullied in middle school, Paige began sharing her story in order to help others. At the age of fourteen, she was granted special permission to become the youngest person to be certified as an HIV/AIDS Educator through the American Red Cross. In her home state of Indiana, she lobbied the state legislature to help pass the state’s Anti-bullying Bill 1423 that became affective in July 2013.
During high school Paige traveled throughout Indiana educating kids at schools and churches about HIV/AIDS as the guest speaker for the I Need You to Listen, Hear, and Understand Me tour.
The project was sponsored by the Indianapolis Urban League, Indiana AIDS Fund, Indiana State Department of Health, Marion County Public Health Department, Teen Damien, and United Way.
Currently a college student, Paige is working towards earning a degree in entrepreneurship and business. She is also focused on starting her own organization for HIV education and anti-bullying advocacy. She plans to continue speaking out to reduce the stigma towards HIV/AIDS and be an advocate against bullying.
Paige’s book titled, “Positive: A Memoir” encourages readers to “choose action over complacency, compassion over cruelty—and above all, to be positive.”
“I didn’t plan this journey, and I certainly wouldn’t have chosen it,” Paige writes. “But the things that happened made me who I am. They’re inside me now, part of me, in the same way a tiny virus has always been a part of me.”
Positive: A Memoir, was selected as a Junior Library Guild book and was nominated for the 2016 Abraham Lincoln Award.
Following the breakfast, at 10 a.m. the event will move south to the State Capitol fourth floor rotunda, where participants can meet with their legislators to discuss HIV education and prevention legislation.
OACF will provide a brief training on how to discuss HIV/AIDS related issues with their representatives.
According to White, the main focus of the event will be advocating for Senate Bill (SB) 1105, by Sen. AJ Griffin (R – Guthrie), which updates the already required HIV education mandate.
“This bill is not an additional mandate and has no fiscal impact to the state—it simply updates the information required to be covered during HIV education,” White said. “The mandate hasn’t been updated since 1987 and doesn’t even mention HIV.
“Additionally, there are two bills currently in the process that will allow individuals and corporations to donate directly from their income tax return to OACF. House Bill 2990 by Rep. Marcus McEntire (R-Duncan) and SB 943 by Sen. Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City).
“Finally, advocates will be supporting funding for state health care agencies like the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and Health Care Authority, which provide critical services to people living with HIV in Oklahoma,” White added.
During the event, HIV community agencies and supporting nonprofits will have tables available with information and resources.
Those interested in participating can register online at https://www.facebook.com/events/139973496675523/ or by contacting David White at [email protected] for more information. To learn more, visit okaidscarefund.com.