Fighting Poverty with Passion
This month marks the start of my 4th month working at WWAV through my VISTA Fellowship. While sometimes it can feel like a lot of different things are going on at the organization at the same time, it’s the times when we sit in the office and our Executive Director Deon Haywood (who has been with the organization since she was 19) speaks nostalgically about WWAV’s history that I realize how important and urgent this work is and always has been in our community.
In 1989, Women With A Vision was founded by a group of black women in New Orleans in response to the spread of
HIV/AIDS among black women. At this stage in the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the disease was still thought to be most prevalent in other communities, notably gay (white) men, leaving many others, notably women, suffering in silence. This focus on gay (white) men resulted in a lack of services and information being disseminated to the black community around HIV/AIDS at this time. Recognizing that the face of HIV/AIDS has changed in the New Orleans area, with heterosexual Black women becoming the fastest growing population of newly-diagnosed cases in the city and state, this initial group of women disseminated HIV/AIDS education and substance abuse resources to individuals practicing high-risk behaviors such as injection drug use and unsafe sex practices. The group formed around the goals of educating women around HIV/AIDS and STDs with the mentality that if women know how to care for themselves and have the autonomy and ability to make the best decisions about themselves and their bodies, then the resulting positive health indicators would translate to the rest of her family and community. WWAV also began educating the public health sector on the need to increase prevention efforts and expand resources for comprehensive programs to address socio-economic root causes that increase communities’ vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.
Women With A Vision was officially incorporated in 1991 and it continued to do the necessary work of addressing HIV/AIDS
among black women and their families throughout the 1990s. During this decade, people started noticing the work of this small grassroots organization that continued to relentlessly advocate for the city’s most marginalized populations. At one point, the organization was even gifted with a bus purchased by the Mayor’s office to help increase their outreach work in the community. During this time and into the next decade, WWAV steadily expanded beyond outreach and advocacy for HIV/AIDS to include a myriad of other services and resources for clients including addressing Sex Worker Rights, Drug Policy Reform, HIV Positive Women’s Advocacy, and Reproductive Justice outreach.
WWAV’s most notable project to date is the NO Justice Project which was launched in July of 2009. WWAV launched the NO Justice Project to combat the sentencing of women who are sex workers under the over 2 century old “crimes against nature” felony-level law. This law required women arrested for “crimes against nature” to register as sex offenders for the next 10 years, placing ‘sex offender’ on their photo identification cards, among other prescribed penalties. After taking on what seemed (to others) like an impossible task of changing this law, WWAV proved once and for all that it was the premiere women’s health organization focused on social services, advocacy, and now, policy. Deon described the experience in this way:
So many times, people tried to tell us not to do it. They didn’t believe that poor, uneducated women could win a victory on this scale. They didn’t think that our women were important enough, or that they had the ability to change their own lives. Let this be an example of people standing together through grassroots organizing to change their lives. We didn’t back down even when we lacked the funding to do this. We did not back down when person after person said that they were unsure about standing by us. We knew what we were doing was right. We did not waver. We did not compromise what needed to happen. We just stayed the course and fought the fight.
Now, in 2014, after over 2 decades of advocacy, organizing and hard work, Women With A Vision is ready to celebrate. Join us on December 13th from 7-10 pm for our 25th Anniversary Party + Fundraiser! This night will feature food, drinks, music, special guest performances from black female artists in the city, a silent auction with work donated by black female artists in the city, a look back at WWAV over the years and more! Tickets will be available for purchase on a sliding scale, and more information will be released at the end of October.
In the meanwhile, check out the series of workshops WWAV is hosting this month in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month:
October 6th, 6 pm: A Conversation on Domestic Violence in the Black Community (2400 St. Claude)
October 13th, 6 pm: Healthy Relationships Workshop (WWAV Offices)
October 20th, 6 pm: Healthy Relationships Workshop (WWAV Offices)
October 20-21st: Clothesline Project (Xavier University Student Union)
October 27th, 6 pm: Healthy Relationships Workshop (WWAV Offices)
For more information or to RSVP, please contact 504-301-0428