Philadelphia FIGHT will host the Reunion Project Philadelphia, an annual event honoring long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS and providing education for the community as a whole. Established four years ago by Matt Sharp and Jeff Berry, who are both long-term HIV survivors, the event seeks to highlight the strength and resilience of those who lived through the darkest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
On Nov. 23, The nationwide affair will bring together individuals who have lived with HIV or AIDS for over 30 years and link them with the community at large. The Philadelphia Reunion Project, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the William Way LGBT Community Center.
The Philadelphia chapter of the Reunion Project is a collaborative effort forged among many local LGBTQ organizations, including Bebashi, Action Wellness, LGBT Elder Initiative, Positive Women’s Network, William Way, The Community Health Training Alliance and The Critical Path Learning Center.
The Community Health Training Alliance is a program of Philadelphia FIGHT, which is a comprehensive healthcare organization that provides primary care, education, research and advocacy to people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as individuals living with a high risk.
Kyle Chvasta, Public Programs Manager of The Community Health Training Alliance, described the Reunion Project as a “celebration.”
“The crux of the event is to address isolation and loneliness among older populations living with HIV, both among older adults and those who have been living with HIV for 30 years or more,” Chvasta told PGN. “We want to bring people together to share stories and experiences, and to talk about what they’ve lived through. The event was started by people who wanted to highlight individuals who might feel left behind by the community they helped to build.”
An overarching theme of this year’s Reunion Project is HIV/AIDS awareness and education, and the day’s program will center on the sharing of lived experience.
“This year, we are going to have a storytelling session hosted by Gregg Cassin, an artist from California who is great at facilitating,” Chvasta said. “There will also be a talk about the U=U Movement, which promotes the concept that if someone is taking their medication, and their viral load is undetectable, there is absolutely no way for them to transmit to a partner.”
Bryan C. Jones, a member of the New York-based Prevention Access Campaign, will lead the U=U presentation. The day’s festivities will conclude with a mini-kiki featuring members of the Philadelphia ballroom scene.
Attendees will have the opportunity to win raffle prizes donated by participating organizations, including Starbucks, Wawa, The Cheesecake Factory, Indeblue and Wrap and Sip. Handmade gift baskets will also be distributed.
Chvasta wants those who come to be comfortable in an LGBTQ-affirming space, forge new friendships and feel that they are part of a community.
“We hope folks will come away … understanding that they’re not going it alone,” Chvasta said. “Often when you’ve been on a journey for so long, you can feel like you’re the only one. Our goal is to address isolation through sharing and being experiential, acting as a support system for one another. Ultimately, we just hope that people will have a good time, will share, and will listen to other peoples’ stories.”
By bringing people together from various age and experience groups, the event also endeavors to combat misconceptions about HIV. “We definitely live in a world where misinformation is proliferated regularly,” said Chvasta.
“Events like this are important because they are for and by people living with HIV, so it is a coalition of organizations and individuals who have walked the walk for many years,” Chvasta added. “There are still people living with HIV who have been around since the earliest days of the epidemic, and they deserve to be uplifted. They deserve to be the ones to tell their stories. They should have the platform, and the floor should be theirs.”
The Reunion Project will take place on Nov. 23, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., at William Way LGBT Community Center. The event is free and open to all. To register, please visit https://rp2019.eventbrite.com.