HIV / AIDS Awareness with Sheryl Lee Ralph & Project Angel Food

A-lan Holt

This Pride month, June 2021, Retrouvé is donating 5% of all product sales to Project Angel Food, a non-profit organization founded by Marianne Williamson that provides free, healthy meals for people impacted by serious illnesses including HIV/AIDS. We are proud to support and amplify this impactful organization that continues to bring awareness to the ongoing reality that HIV / AIDS is still present in our communities, and further, that it continues to disproportionately affect the Black community. Our guest this month on Retrouvé’s IG Live is Sheryl Lee Ralph, a renowned actress, HIV / AIDS advocate and a trustee of Project Angel Food. Please visit our IGTV page at @officialretrouve to experience the powerful conversation and read below to learn more about Project Angel Food and the contemporary movement for HIV / AIDS awareness, treatment, and advocacy.

It’s been almost 40 years since we first learned about HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. If we’re old enough, we certainly remember feeling its impacts and witnessing how it transformed a generation. Our guest this month, Sheryl Lee Ralph, remembers that moment vividly when her time starring in one of Broadway’s biggest shows Dreamgirls, intersected with the fatal toll of the virus that took the lives of many of her crew, cast mates and friends. Since then, Sheryl has become a long-standing advocate for people living with HIV / AIDS and those that love them. She is not only on the board of Project Angel Food, which was founded in 1989, she also founded the DIVA Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for HIV / AIDS, and regularly partners with initiatives to promote testing and early detection.

Sheryl reminds us that not only is sexual orientation a key indicator in who might contract the virus, but race also has noticeable implications. She notes, “Black women are 20 times more likely than White women to become HIV positive and five times more likely than Hispanic/Latina women.” When we think about movements for racial and social justice, alongside movements for health equity, conversations around HIV / AIDS must continue to be part of the conversation.

At this moment, conversations are less prominent nationally. Gallup polls indicate that in the past decade Americans’ concern about AIDS as a public health issue has declined substantially, as have their worries about personally contracting the disease. Despite this trend, we know that around 1.2 million people in the U.S. have HIV and about 13 percent of those people do not know it and need testing. This is why Sheryl Lee Ralph implores, “knowing your status is vital to you, your health and the health of those around you.” She continues, “A single person is not going to end this epidemic; together we must unite in the fight.”

Here are a few ways we can take up Sheryl’s call and unite in the fight:

Know your status. You can order at home tests online, or visit your doctor or local clinic to find out your HIV status.

Support Someone Living with HIV. Organizations like Project Angel Food support the nutritional needs of people with serious illnesses. Last year they provided over 1 million meals and expanded their advocacy to include those impacted by COVID 19.

Stand up to Stigma. Knowing the basics can help break down societal stigmas around the virus. For example, many people living with HIV have an undetectable viral load, which means that medication has reduced the virus to such small quantities in their body that it is no longer detected by standard blood tests and the virus can no longer be passed on through sex. The more we know about HIV and AIDS, the more we can make informed decisions around our intimate connection with one another.

Get involved. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. HIV.gov has an extensive list of organizations and sites that are looking for volunteers to help with a range of needs.

Preventative Medication. Learn more about PrEP as an option for preventing HIV. PrEP is a pharmaceutical drug taken daily that can help prevent you from contracting the virus.

We want to thank Project Angel Food for their continued dedication to HIV / AIDS awareness and support over time. We want to thank our incredible guest Sheryl Lee Ralph for her DIVA-sized love and advocacy.  Let’s continue to advocate for the rights of every member of our community to live lives of dignity, inclusive community, long-lasting care and love.

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