It seems that we all are in a hurry these days. In a hurry to get to work; school, the grocery store, the daycare, the party, the club, the game, the first of the line, the front row at a concert, the back row at church, the doctor’s appointment, the hairdresser, the airport, the barber shop, the restaurant, and on and on goes the list. Are you sure you really have time to be reading my blog right now, just kidding, don’t go!
I mention the hustle and bustle because I am wondering why we rush headlong to “get somewhere” and miss out on so much along the way in our haste. As a child of the 50s, and the daughter of a red-headed trucker who was rumored to haul moonshine back in the day, in a souped-up 1940 Ford coupe; and as a kid who spent many a night in the red dirt of the Anniston Speedway watching “real” racecars (not today’s namby-pamby cars of tomorrow) go round and round the track, I tend to sometimes think in what many would call “Redneck style”, so hang with me.
Now don’t get all huffy on me, I’m talking the Redneck who would give you the shirt off their (tattooed) back, help your Mama carry in the groceries, and works at a job that leaves his hands greasy and calloused so he can provide for the family he loves. Not a bigoted stereotype you’ve decided is a lazy, no good, trailer park living, refrigerator in the front yard, car on cement blocks kinda Redneck. I want to paint a picture that reflects MY world, and that of many others in the South, although by no means is Redneck the prevailing culture in my neck of the woods. But I sorta feel the need to “own” the word Redneck while we chat about culture. (not THAT kind of culture).
I am by no means an expert on cultural diversity or cultural competence in the workplace or community, yet the topic is one that is so important for professionals who work with persons who use/abuse drugs and alcohol, and those whose sexual behaviors put them at risk for HIV/AIDS. In a long career working as a Prevention educator in rural Alabama, it has been my pleasure to learn about a variety of cultural, racial/ethnic, and behavioral differences. I’ve learned so much more from the clients I work with than I could ever teach on my own. The African American mother in her tiny apartment, the elderly Hispanic grandmother in the mobile home, the gay white man in a garden home, the hip hop-loving teen hanging by the pool in his suburban home; they all have cultural differences but when it comes to substance abuse or risk for HIV infection we all become part of a fairly similar population or culture. Sure, the differences matter, but it’s the similarities that bind us together.
Whether it is a 12 pack of Miller or Bud, or a $60 bottle of Merlot, whether it’s a big ole blunt, a buttery crack rock, or an expensive prescribed narcotic – the substance use creates a huge “family tie”, and income, gender, heritage, culture or status become less obvious. It’s no accident that persons in recovery from drugs/alcohol will often mention their “community”, their recovery family, brother, sister, etc. Its pure survival that brings poor minority females together to pool their money to buy baby food and diapers, and it’s a sense of “family” that bonds the marginalized LGBTQ into tight knit communities where they feel loved and protected. By the way, LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning. Learn it. Have questions about it? Let me know, we’ll talk. What I guess I’m trying to say is when you get down to that street level, gut level, do or die place where prevention education and awareness matter most – it matters to me how I can reduce your risks and help you live healthy; not get HIV infected or if you are already infected, not spread it to others. So, yes, your culture matters to me, I want to respect it, learn about it, honor it, and use it as a tool toward prevention success.
Okay, so back to being in a hurry all the time. In my work as a substance abuse and HIV prevention program director I sometimes feel like I am pedal to the metal, giving Dale Jr. a run for his money, through my hectic work week. Fueled by Diet Dr. Pepper and Krispy Kremes (rather than Sunoco) I hit the ground running each morning and don’t slow down till usually around 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. (It’s actually only 10:39 p.m. right now, wooo hooo!)
Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if I am missing something, speeding by important parts of my life in my quest to meet project goals, provide awesome prevention services to help our community and my neighbors, trying to please federal grant makers; my employer, my staff, (AND my hubby) all at the same time. I’ve attended those “how to supervise difficult people” seminars and have realized I’m a “people pleasing, overachieving, tender hearted, procrastinating, Baby Boomer” who needs to make a few more pit stops before the race ends and the checkered flag waves. I need to prioritize, organize and maximize (giggle) my time. Bwahahahahahahha, yea, like I’m gonna do that after all these years!
But, anyway you get the picture. I want to be more than just a competent employee, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, etc. I want to help myself and others transcend that barrier that we bump up against that says “she/he is poor, uneducated, not good enough, from the wrong side of the tracks, too old, too young, too fat, too skinny, too gay, too WHATEVER”! I long for less labels on myself and my community, and for more practical, smart and useful methods to lift us up, educate and inform us and make us aware so that our lives are healthier and safer.
I just returned from that 6 days of the 2011 National HIV Prevention Conference mentioned in a previous post. I’m a little overwhelmed with statistics, federal “healthcare speak”, academic presentations of laboratory results, and other assorted conference STUFF. I guess the take-away from it all is: there are warriors in this prevention fight, there is so much need, there are tools available to PREVENT, and I am in this fight to the end. I hope to share more from the conference with you in the next posts, especially about using social media; Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. to fight substance abuse and HIV/AIDS.
So, no matter what your background, be it wealthy and privileged, low income and struggling, middle class or homeless; you are involved in this fight against substance abuse and HIV/AIDS. I’ve heard from many of you already who’ve read the blog, (keep those comments coming!) and it was a thrill to have my blog’s web address “re-tweeted” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to their over 7,500 Twitter followers, resulting in almost 2,000 views for the Prevention Works blog! I’m liking this Community Bloggers project a lot and hope you are too.
I’d like to think our conversations will bring us together into a prevention prepared community that can help achieve social justice and equity for us all, no matter what cultural background we claim. Your homework till next time is to slow down a little (sorta like that yellow flag at a NASCAR race), take a few caution laps, look at those around you and see beyond color, age, gender, size, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
Some points to ponder:
In our state African Americans make up around 26% of our population, but over 64% of all new HIV infections. www.adph.org
In our state African American males make up 44% of all reported HIV/AIDS cases.
In our state among all persons living in poverty in Alabama 16% were white, 36% were Black and 31% were Hispanic.
The age group most likely to live in poverty in Alabama is children 18 and under (32% living in poverty), followed by adults age 19 to 64 (20% living in poverty)
Alabama averages 40,000 high school drop outs annually and ranks 44th in the nation for persons over age 25 having a bachelor’s degree or higher (US Census, 2008).
Alabama Medicaid does not cover most sexual/reproductive health screening and prevention services, including HPV vaccine, STD testing, STD treatment, HIV testing, and emergency contraceptives (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2009).
Alabama’s teen death rate for 2008 was 93/100,000 compared to 62/100,000 nationwide.
Alabama’s diabetes rate is 26/100,000 compared to 22/100,000 nationally. Heart disease rates are 236/100,000 versus 191/1000 annually. (Kaiser Family Foundation: www.statehealthfacts.org, 2009).
So, whatever culture you identify with, you are welcome here! As Sister Sledge sings, “We are family”, and KC and the Sunshine Band says, “That’s the way I like it, uh huh, uh huh”. I’d like to think of you as my Prevention Family, so come back soon. Be sure to share my blog with your email pals, your Facebook and Twitter friends, the more the merrier! http://www.annistonstar.com/blogs_preventionworks
Health Services Center website