Achieving Together’s Most Popular Posts Ever

Achieving Together: A Community Plan to End the HIV Epidemic officially launched on November 27, 2018, with our commitment to be a movement for everyone who is affected by HIV, to amplify the voices of people who often don’t get heard, and to build compassionate connections across communities. As we approach the end of the year, we’re looking back not only at 2021, but at the years since Achieving Together’s launch. Since Achieving Together began in November of 2018, we have heard from numerous organizations and individuals in the HIV community. We at Achieving Together are immensely grateful and humbled by the hard work, creativity, candor, and compassion we have observed over the past few years.

Let’s countdown the five most viewed blogs ever posted on the Achieving Together site. While this post only mentions five blogs, we appreciate and value each and every organization and individual who has contributed to the Achieving Together movement.

5. Talking with Carter Brown about National Transgender HIV Testing Day

In this post from April of 2019, Achieving Together spoke with Carter Brown, Founder and Executive Director of Black Transmen, Inc.

“I believe that every person has a passion about something and it starts there. Identify what you have a passion for and what your skill set is. Identify the issues – it could be trans-youth, eradicating homelessness within the trans-community. There are so many needs for the trans community. There is something that everyone can do.”

4. This is What Resilience Looks Like

In this post from January of 2019, Helen Turner wrote about her experience as a long-term survivor of HIV.

“I am thankful that I have the ability, the will, the gumption, TO LIVE OUT LOUD WITH A PURPOSE, to LEND MY VOICE and BE THE CHANGE to END HIV as an epidemic.”

3. I’m Breaking Up with Fear

In this post from May of 2019, Elias Diaz shared his personal journey with fear.

“Let’s break up with Fear. Let’s block His number and ignore His calls. Let’s put His pictures in a box and shove it under our bed… close enough so that we don’t forget what He put us through, but far enough to make room for someone else. Let’s change our bedsheets to get rid of the stench He left behind. Let’s get up, change our look, and go out into the streets to find somebody new.”

2. I’m Writing My Own Story

In this post from April of 2019, Ryan Garrett talked about his experience with PrEP.

“I appreciate PrEP and being able to share my story. There is something out there to protect you if you are going to be sexually fluid. You can’t trust anyone else—not when it comes to your health. But you can trust yourself. You can write your own story just like I am writing mine.”

1. Covering Texans’ Condom Needs: Texas Wears Condom and The Condom Distribution Network

Texans love their condoms. This post from September of 2020 has had more views than any other Achieving Together post.  In this post, the Achieving Together team interviewed two organizations in Texas that distribute free mail order condoms online: Texas Wears Condoms and the Condom Distribution Network.

“…The purpose of the program is to educate the community and help reduce the spread of HIV and STIs in Texas by expanding free condoms access, improving condom knowledge and destigmatizing condoms/condom use. The program focuses heavily on destigmatizing and normalizing conversations around sex.” – Texas Wears Condoms

“By normalizing condom use, we believe we can address the stigma around sexual health and testing.” – Condom Distribution Network

We began our very first blog post with these words:

Start where you are.
Use what you have.
Do what you can.

– Arthur Ashe

Now is the time to end HIV as an epidemic in Texas. We know that when people have access to the tools, when they are not stigmatized, they have better health care, better health outcomes, and we all are better off. We have healthier communities and more productive work environments.

We wish you a joyful and relaxing end to 2021 so that you may enter 2022 refreshed and ready for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Tarrant County Administrative Agency Actively Involves Community in HIV Work Every Step of the Way

The Achieving Together Texas Plan was developed with six guiding principles to lead the work of ending the HIV epidemic in Texas: social justice, equity, integration, empowerment, advocacy, and community. When addressing empowerment and community, the plan states that we should support shared decision-making between people affected by HIV and providers and across systems. It also acknowledges that lasting change happens at the local level among people who are working together, without a partisan frame, to create a healthy community. Knowing that many ASOs, CBOs, health departments, and other service providers have been operating over the past two years with heroic determination and stamina, under enormous constraints in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we sought to learn more about one administrative agency’s approach to ensuring that community and people living with HIV (PLWH) are included in their planning processes and programming.

Kaitlin Lopez, Grant Coordinator and Quality and AA Planning, with the Tarrant County Administrative Agency recently shared how she and her team actively involve the community and PLWH in their work to help end the HIV epidemic in their community. Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth, Arlington, Grand Prairie, and many other cities, is the third most populous county in Texas after Harris (Houston) and Dallas (Dallas) counties.

Tarrant County Administrative Agency (TC AA), located in Fort Worth, manages all funding for HIV/AIDS care and services in the North Central Texas region. Since 1991, the TC AA has been the only Ryan White recipient in the United States that coordinates all funding parts of the Ryan White Treatment Extension Act (Parts A, B, C, and D) along with Texas State Funds, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), and Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) funds from a single administrative office and with a single planning body. The TC AA presently does not deliver services to clients, but rather utilizes a network model and contracts with subrecipients to provide direct services to eligible individuals.

The TC AA has a number of initiatives currently underway aimed at reducing the impact of HIV in north central Texas including the “CQII Create + Equity Collaborative” which aims to improve viral load suppression and retention in care for: Black women, age 18–39 and Trans women, age 19–39 (CQII stands for “Center for Quality Improvement and Innovation”). Additionally, they provide targeted at-home testing for HIV and run a website and social media campaign tailored to the clients served in this jurisdiction.

You can find the TC AA and learn more about their work on their website: and by following on social media:

One unique and inspiring way they involve the community in this initiative is to ensure that the faces photographed in the campaign are faces of PLWH who live and work in this community.

One standout feature of their work is their Health Improvement Team (HIT) HIV Community Advisory Board (CAB), which has over ten active members who are all living with HIV. This board assists in decision-making and creates initiatives to help improve health outcomes, increase patient satisfaction, and reduce barriers, disparities, and stigma. Additionally, the CAB participates in discussions to change the way services are delivered and how clients are engaged and retained in care. The CAB has developed three work products thus far:

  1. Thriving Guide: A local resource guide with Ryan White, EHE, and Prevention Resources
  2. Diagnosis to First Medical Visit Roadmap: A roadmap that outlines a client’s steps from diagnosis to their first medical appointment.
  3. First Medical Appointment to an Undetectable Status: A roadmap that outlines the steps a client should take to become undetectable.

The above resources are available in Spanish and English in clinics and local points of entry and can also be found online.

Kaitlin says they decided to take this community-centered approach after hosting numerous listening sessions with PLWH. The HIT HIV CAB has provided feedback to the TC AA that has also informed grant activities. PLWH were asking for help crafting initiatives related to stigma reduction, trauma-informed care, care coordination staff that were comfortable talking about sexual health, and resources that were accessible and customized to the community’s needs, in addition to engaging the community in a non-traditional manner. The TC AA hopes that all of these community-focused initiatives will lead to clients living with HIV getting linked to and retained in care, experiencing viral suppression and reaching undetectable status (see U=U), and reduced stigma around HIV within the Tarrant County community.

Kaitlin mentioned that COVID-19 continues to present challenges for outreach and community engagement opportunities. It has impacted the TC AA’s overall ability to create new outreach and community engagement activities. Organizations are prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines and are still focused on organizational recovery. Resources and staff are limited for those who would typically be involved in a partnership with the TC AA to implement new outreach and community engagement activities.

However, despite these challenges Kaitlin and her team offer the following advice to others looking to make an impact on ending HIV in their communities: Talk to your community and actively listen and create actual changes based on feedback from PLWH such as tangible work products and policy and procedural changes. She also underscores the importance of developing a community advisory board that represents your local epidemic and will engage and uplift the voices of PLWH.

We at Achieving Together Texas celebrate the work that the Tarrant County Administrative Agency is doing to end HIV in their community. They are bridging tools, technology, people, and passion while adapting systems and structures to make it easier for all people to access the HIV prevention, care, and treatment they need in order to thrive.

The Tarrant County AA team currently consists of:

Lisa Muttiah, Grants Manager
Renee Thomas, Grants and Data Coordinator
Kaitlin Lopez, Grant Coordinator, Quality and AA Planning
Rebecca Seymore, Financial Analyst
Dulce Lozano, Assistant Financial Analyst
Briana Umana, Office Manager
Damiya Pentecost, EHE Program Manager (not pictured)
Oscar Zuniga, Data Analyst (not pictured)
Brandon Bright, Community Engagement Specialist (Not Pictured)

ThrHIVing: Strong, Resilient, Black Women Taking Action to End HIV & Mental Health Stigma

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and to honor it, the Black Women’s Affinity Group, in collaboration with Achieving Together, is hosting a webinar to bust myths and offer support for women living with HIV. This webinar, entitled, “ThrHIVing: Strong, Resilient, Black Women Taking Action to End HIV and Mental Health Stigma” will take place on Monday, May 10th, at 11:00 a.m. Central Time both on Zoom and Facebook Live (through the Achieving Together Texas Facebook page). See the link at the bottom of the blog for registration details.

It is widely known that receiving a diagnosis for any disease can take an emotional toll on a person’s mental health; however, when that disease has stigma associated with it, the risk for mental health complications increases greatly. One study of over 2,800 individuals living with HIV showed that approximately 36% also experienced serious depression and almost 16% experienced increased anxiety.

In the creation of the Achieving Together Plan, community members decided that eliminating stigma by cultivating a stigma-free climate of appreciation and inclusion would be one of the six focus areas needed to have a high impact on the goals of the plan. The Black Women’s Affinity Group is working hard to eliminate the stigma associated with HIV in Texas, particularly among Black women. This group, in collaboration with Achieving Together, is composed of community members working to address disproportionate transmission rates,  health disparities for Black women, and  access to care. The focus of the Black Women’s Affinity Group is to address gaps in connecting with clients, providers, and community through culturally responsive and affirming messaging, provide culturally affirming and empowering self-care, and to ensure Black women are included as decision-makers in regard to prevention and care programming from a planning, financing, and implementation standpoint. 

As part of their work, the affinity group has hosted a series of Did You Know? webinars entitled, “DYK Dialogues.” Their upcoming webinar, facilitated by group member Mattyna L Stephens, features a number of speakers, including:

  • Shadawn McCants, CEO of Know and Live Counseling and Consulting, PLLC, (keynote address) Mental Health Professional and HIV Advocate
  • Sharonda Lynn,Community Advocate and Activist
  • Mia Porter, Community Advocate and Activist
  • Bonnie Samuel, Playwright/Poet

The webinar will address how Black women respond to and thrive with an HIV diagnosis while often confronting the associated fear, shame, and stigma they might experience. The webinar seeks to not only address these concerns, but also offer support and resources for navigating systems of care and accessing culturally-affirming mental health resources.

We asked the keynote speaker, Shadawn McCants, to share her thoughts on a few questions to give a preview of the wisdom she will be sharing on the webinar.

AT: What motivated you to get involved in mental health advocacy?

SM: My motivation was from my own experiences with mental health since childhood. Since the age of remembrance I have always stated I wanted to be a social worker. As I matured, attended college and began working in the arena of mental health it was inevitable that I would become an advocate due to the disparities and lack of access to culturally competent care for marginalized communities and individuals.

AT: What are some of the biggest challenges for Black Women accessing mental health services?

SM: One of the biggest challenges is the belief that Black Women are Super Heroes or invincible therefore they don’t need mental health treatment. Very often the assumption is that Black Women “got it.” The expectation of Black Women is to live up to the cliché Strong Black Woman…well that is a myth! Far too many Black Women have internalized this mantra. It halts their ability to ask for help when needed or results in their symptoms being ignored when brought to the attention of medical/clinical professionals.  Additional barriers include access to culturally competent professionals (i.e., Black therapist) and affordable services.

AT: Why is it important for people to understand the unique intersectionality of stigma, living with HIV, and mental health? How does the unique intersectionality of stigma, living with HIV, and mental health impact Black Women’s health outcomes?

SM: The intersectionality of stigma, living with HIV and mental health is impacted by the sheer fact that a diagnosis of HIV is PTSD! It is traumatic and requires a level of mental and emotional wellness from the moment an individual is given the (HIV) diagnosis. When stigma becomes internalized shame and is untreated, ignored, or violated by the systems that were built to protect them, it results in mistrust, disappointment and at worst a defeated mindset that may impact their desire and drive to get or stay in care.

Want to hear more from Shadawn and the other presenters? Join us and register here today (and make sure to share widely!)

Reflecting on the “NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US IS FOR US” Webinar on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and we here at Achieving Together Texas would like to honor that day by reflecting on a recent webinar hosted by the Black Women’s Affinity Group of the Texas HIV Syndicate. Black women represent 10% of people living with HIV in Texas and represented 8% of all new HIV diagnoses in 2018 in Texas. The CDC provides an informative fact sheet as well about women living with HIV in the United States.

Since Black women are one of the five vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by HIV in Texas, the Black Women’s Affinity Group and the Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative work to address health issues affecting Black women in Texas. The affinity group recently kicked off a webinar series entitled, DYK (Did You Know?). As part of the series, they hosted a webinar on February 8th addressing medical mistrust in the Black community, medical research for HIV/Covid19 involving Black women, and how to identify “good” research. The webinar included a panel of experts who each presented on different topics. Presenters included:

  • Mandy Hill, DrPH, MPH, Director of Population Health and Associate Professor, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston’s McGovern Medical School & Delta Sigma Theta
  • Teriya Richmond, MD, Chief Medical Officer, AIDS Foundation Houston
  • Shanterra McBride, Alpha Kappa Alpha
  • Jennifer Jones, Zeta Phi Beta
  • Camille White, MD, Sigma Gamma Rho
  • Karen Shores, community advocate

The webinar included a mixture of presentations, interactive polls, and open discussions and prompted some great questions and responses from attendees. One organizer, Sattie Nyachwaya, a Community Engagement Coordinator with Prism Health North Texas, shared her thoughts on the webinar afterwards:

“Being a part of this webinar was a huge honor for me. Being in the space with some powerful Black women involved in this work for many years continues to inspire and motivate me in my long term personal and professional development. One of the things I took from this webinar was empowerment behind medical research. I was never aware that Black women are needed to be a part of medical research, and that we take back the power and break barriers by being active in our own health. I believe that mental health is a part of the foundation of Black women’s health, and by having open conversations with our providers and asking questions we make sure we are at the table with conversations of change. I learned that mistrust lives among misinformation, and it is so important in my own health to empower myself to ask and speak up.”

As part of the work of Achieving Together, the Black Women’s Affinity Group works to empower their community through social justice, education, and advocacy, while working towards the goal of eliminating health disparities and HIV in Black women and all Texans.

You can watch the entire webinar below:

Art, Healing Justice & HIV with Tarik Daniels

At the end of August, we were fortunate to have Tarik Daniels, founder and executive director of Whatsinthemirror?, join us for a conversation called, “Art, Healing Justice and HIV.”

This presentation explored how “Healing Justice” is understood as a broader framework that aims to describe the relationship between social justice work and spirit by focusing both on the consequences of systemic oppression on the hope and agency of persons living with HIV, as well as how communities can heal and be restored to vibrant ways of living.

Cultural, systemic, historical, and institutional disparities have had substantial impacts on black queer people’s quality of life This webinar helps us understand healing justice and how it could be used to heal at the intersections of HIV through art. It also helps us outline the mental impact of society in navigating this world as queer people of color.

We acknowledge the “isms” of the world.

We have to start by listening.

We have to start honoring people’s experiences.

We have to be an ally.

We have to work through an anti-oppression framework that seeks to transform and heal.

What are the steps we need to overcome the past?

1. Awareness: Recognize that racism, sexism, and homophobia do exist, at no fault of your own. There is power in awareness.

2. Prepare: Recognize that our experiences of inequality and discrimination causes trauma within us. What we consider as normal has dormant effect on us wholly. Triggers are what keeps the cycle of social depression alive, generational.

3. Create: Recognize that there is a need to create tools and coping skills to endure social influences. Art is an incredible tool. You never know when you will need it to avoid falling victim to social depression.

We all have unconscious biases. As you watch the video below, take a moment to get in touch with yourself. Understand that unconscious bias is not who we are, instead it is what we’ve learned. Instead of asking, “Am I racist, sexist, or transphobic?” ask, “Where is racism, sexism, and transphobia I learned showing up in my life?” Again, there is power in awareness.

To learn more about Tarik Daniels and his work, read the blog post that Tarik wrote for Achieving Together: Whatsinthemirror? Addressing Mental Health Among the Queer Community of Color in Central Texas Through the Arts.