"Stigma Starts with Me" were the words written in red on the front of many individuals as they wore their shirts proudly claiming that they were defying stigmas.
That phrase was also the name of a June 27 event/press conferrence that members of the Men & Women in Prison Ministries ( MWIPM ) and the Rev. Doris Green ( who heads MWIPM ) held at the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave., to celebrate their fight against issues involving stigma against persons re-entering the community from prison and against persons with HIV/AIDS.
State Reps. LaShawn Ford, Camilly Y. Lilly and Julianna Stratton ( the latter who is also running for lieutenant governor ) joined the members of MWIPM and other community locals to speak out against societal barriers that have caused a lack of resources for many communities in the Chicago area and proclaim that the fight must continue.
Ford, who represents the 8th District, thanked Green for her diligent work in the community and her push to fight stigma. "She's one of the advocates that will strike fear in legislatives because she's serious about what she's doing and the people she's advocating for," he said. "It's not funded the way other programs are funded but you continue to do this work with very little appropriations, if any from the state."
MWIPM member Beverley Walker introduced Lilly, who represents the 78th District. She said, "A longtime resident of the West Side, she is a person that I see all the time in the community any time you have questions or need information about the community on the West Side she has that information for you."
"I, too, want to congratulate Rev. Green for just being the vessel that's making sure that our children, family, friends are getting the healthcare services that they need" Lilly said. In addition, she discussed the ongoing need of walking with other people to continue on the journey of fighting for our communities. Lilly congratulated some of her co-workers from the Austin area's Loretto Hospital for their hard work and dedication to individuals in their community. "Keeping the information and the education in the hands of people who use it," Lilly said.
"We have to do the testing, we have to do the education, we have to prevent this disease from spreading and we have to do it together," she added.
The press conference ended with a warm welcome for Stratton, who currently represents the 5th District. "Today is National Testing Day and it is so critical that we continue to raise awareness. The work that's being done to stop the stigma and begin to get individuals with HIV the healthcare they need is absolutely critical and as we know in this country the access to healthcare is under attack," Stratton said.
Members of the MWIPM and state representatives and residents of the community gathered afterward to learn the steps of action to take against HIV. The family-friendly event included face painting, barbeque, free giveaways and more.