Post submitted by Thomas Davis

One year ago, I was diagnosed with HIV at the start of my last semester of college. Initially distressed over my diagnosis, I eventually found the courage to give back to my community and join the fight against the epidemic. I decided to film my experience “coming out” as HIV positive in hopes of empowering people who might one day find themselves in a similar situation. Last week, the Human Rights Campaign helped me take my advocacy to the next level by sponsoring my trip to the Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative (YBGLI) 2014 Policy and Advocacy Summit as part of their overall support of the event

As you might imagine, I had some fears going into the summit: Who was I going to meet? What topics would we cover? Would I actually be able to use what I learn to better my community? But the one question I kept asking myself was: Do I even belong here? A dance major in college, I didn’t believe I fit the profile of people who work in HIV prevention. I assumed they were all public health majors, not dancers. Walking in, I thought all I had was my story and my experience. Thankfully, those were the only things I needed. From the moment I arrived at the conference hotel, I knew this group had a multitude of stories just waiting to be told. I even found other dancers.

Meeting so many other passionate gay and bisexual Black men was truly an amazing experience – one I don’t often get in Los Angeles, California. As I attended different workshops and participated in various discussion groups, I quickly realized that everyone had something meaningful to offer. Whether it’s running political campaigns, writing a blog, or sharing your story on YouTube, the YBGLI summit proved there’s always a way for you to give back to your community. The more and more I started to talk about the work I do with my video series, “The POZ L+FE,” the more people reached out to support me. Everyone I showed the video to was eager to give me positive and constructive feedback. They were eager to help me make my method of HIV prevention and awareness a reality.

Before attending the YBGLI Policy and Advocacy Summit, I regularly second-guessed myself.  Although I was proud of the work I had done to date, I felt isolated and alone in the struggle against HIV. But that all changed on the last day of the summit, when four leaders in the movement talked to us about their experiences as Black gay and bisexual men. Their words resonated with me in a way I can’t even begin to describe. Not only did YGBLI create a network of individuals I can count on, it created a family.

The YBGLI summit surrounded me with tons of love and support. But that alone won’t help my community. As I boarded the plane for California, I realized how important it is for me to tap into that energy and use it. So this, this is my public promise to do just that.

 Thomas Davis is a dancer, choreographer and video/music editor from Estes Park, Colorado. He relocated to Los Angeles California four years ago to pursue his dream of becoming a performer. Thomas currently apprentices for The Lula Washington Dance Theater and plans to use dance to educate people about HIV/AIDS.

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