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.

Black Women Rock! Black Girl Magic! Writing our own narrative…

Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative 10 Year Anniversary Virtual Conference

Join us on November 10th for the Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative 10 Year Anniversary Virtual Conference! This conference will commemorate 10 years of educating people and working to reduce stigma and the disparity of HIV/AIDS among Black identified women in Texas.

Who we are?

Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative (TxBWHI) is a collective, regionally-located team created to mobilize with a focus on HIV education, prevention, and care retention by influencing: policy, systems, programs, projects, cultures, and practices to reduce HIV-related disparities in communities of Black women. 

What is the Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative (TxBWHI)?

It is a unique initiative supporting Black-identified women and their communities from a woman’s perspective by elevating their power of visibility, addressing stigma and increasing wholeness for a healthier life.  We accomplish our goals through many unique initiatives such as tea parties, hair and health shows and “rock the red carpet” events, as well as leadership development projects; engaging students at historically black colleges and universities to build capacity for peer-to-peer education and faith-based outreach and education.

Why should I attend the conference?

Knowledge is Power! This conference is for anyone wanting to learn about TxBWHI initiatives and join us as we continue to be intentional about building on current knowledge to support Black women, Trans women, their families, and their communities in reducing health disparities. 

AND DID WE MENTION FUN? We’ll have interactive sessions, music, and engaging presenters!

This year’s mini conference will focus on:

  • HIV/AIDS Reproductive Justice in the world of COVID 19, including domestic violence.
  • The impact on COVID 19 in the Black community, navigating health care systems and what we can do to help.
  • Connecting with young leaders and planning for success.
  • Testing your knowledge of data and more.
  • Protecting your mental health, signs of depressions, and how to cope.
  • How to get moving at all levels of fitness and mobility and how to eat for health.
  • How you can partner with us to make all of our communities stronger and healthier.

Join Us! For more information and to register for the Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative 10 Year Anniversary Virtual Conference go to: https://achievingtogethertx.org/txbwhi-conference/.

Champion for Change

The month of September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. Organizers chose this time period because it reflects the independence days for many Latin American countries, including Mexico’s famous Grito de Dolores on September 16. First recognized by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 as a week of recognition, President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month in 1988. People of Hispanic or Latinx heritage represented approximately 38% of Texas’ population in the 2010 census, but that population is “expected to become the largest population group in Texas as soon as 2022.” 

Achieving Together’s Guiding Principles

Despite representing some of the oldest Texas’ residents, the Latinx population in Texas faces many barriers to equity, including access to affordable housing, healthcare, and education. Not only do the guiding principles of the Achieving Together Plan implore us to action in addressing these issues, the plan lays out a guide for addressing many of these barriers in order to successfully end the HIV epidemic in Texas. The plan stipulates that “addressing mental health, substance use disorders, criminal justice, and housing is essential to creating supportive and stable environments in which people can achieve their health and wellness goals.” In addition, the plan recognizes that “Community-guided planning and data that is inclusive of all population groups will support programs and interventions that are culturally appropriate and will help people find the right pathway to meet their health and wellness goals.” Only by recognizing our history and working together to create a shared vision of the future can we successfully end the HIV epidemic in Texas. Join us!

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Texas HIV Syndicate member Elias Diaz, from Eagle Pass, penned the following essay on his reflections as a community organizer and health advocate for his community.


Champion for Change
By Elias Diaz

I’m a mental health care provider, a public health advocate, and a community organizer. Going into politics wasn’t in the plan. Truth be told… I hate politics. I don’t identify as a politician. I’m not sure I ever will. 

Even after a victory, I raise up my head with pride, but can’t help but to feel the effects this battle had on my body. There were a million reasons not to do this, but I’ve never been one to back down from a fight. 

My fight is long and sordid. It’s never been for a political position, but rather to reclaim the power for my people.  It’s tears and it’s bloodshed. It’s swords and it’s stones. It’s conquest and colonization. It’s passion incarnate. 

My fight is like my language. The Nahuatl words hidden in my Spanish. The Spanish clinging to my English sentences. My English decorated with my accent. It’s the sound I’ve given to the little brown boy that lives inside me… the one that learned silence as his primary language in order to survive. It’s the same language that the voiceless child speaks inside the detention centers. It’s the silent song of the early martyrs of the HIV pandemic.

My fight is the unruliness in my hair. It’s rebellion against systems of oppression. The ones that limit opportunities for housing, promote mass incarcerations, and prevent our people from healing. 

My fight is like the pigment in my skin demanding visibility. Visibility for the most marginalized populations. It’s the need of the LGBQ youth to be seen by their families and their communities.  It’s power in presence; a changed gender marker. It’s resilience personified.

My fight is calloused hands and feet. It’s the long journey that my grandparents took to get to this journey. It’s crossing deserts, walking through canyons, and climbing sierras. It’s mental illness and it’s substance abuse. It’s wondering where to go next, wanting to stop, and knowing you have to keep moving. 

My fight is like the strength in my back. The same strength that powers the worker in the fields. It carries the burden of income inequality, lack of access to healthcare, and inequities in education. It is the resilience of the cactus that causes it to thrive in the harshest of environments. 

My fight is the fullness in my lips. They swell and burst with truth. It’s my unapologetic sexuality. It’s the dignity of the sex worker. The vibrant color of the desert flower.  

My fight is like my food. It’s spicy. It’s poignant. It’s full of boldness and flavor. It’s unrepentant. It demands preparation by looking at our past. It fosters collaboration across systems. It promises a seat the table for all. 

My fight is my religion. It is the sacred dance of my ancestors. It is irreverence in the face of fear. My fight is the confession of classism, colorism, and machismo. My fight is resurrection and evolvement time and time again. My fight is building sanctuary across our systems of care. 

My fight is my tradition. It has deep memories of rape and pillage, stolen land, and forced assimilation. It is hope and it is freedom.  

My fight is the greatest of revolutions. It is recognizing and honoring the fight in you. It is empowerment and it is truth. My fight is a battle cry for a heartbroken community. My fight is a call to action to those that have been broken by these systems to rise up and dismantle them. My fight is a charge against our way of doing things. My fight is a plea for you to rise up and be the champion for change that we have continuously prayed for. 


Elias Diaz made history in Eagle Pass after becoming the first openly LGBTQ candidate to get elected to public office in his area. His hard-fought election came after an eight-month long campaign that included a runoff election, postponement of the election due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and multiple personal attacks. Although Eagle Pass is registered as a blue city, the region is home to many residents whom Diaz says identify with “traditional conservative values.”

Diaz has been a longtime champion of marginalized communities. He has overcome a multitude of barriers including economic disadvantage, childhood domestic violence, and sexual abuse, and used his experiences to fight for social justice and equality for others. Diaz put himself through college in LA by starring in adult films. Pictures and videos of his sex work circulated on the internet during his campaign and were used against him in an attempt to demoralize him and question his ability to lead. Diaz remained transparent about his past and used the attacks to connect to inspire voters in his community to rise up against injustice and inequality. In the end, he beat his opponent by 517 votes, according to Eagle Pass Business Journal.