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The Power of Mentorship and Thriving with HIV
Whitman-Walker Health

June 17, 2018

As part of Whitman-Walker’s 40th anniversary, officially January 13, 2018, we’re sharing 40 stories to help tell the narrative of the Whitman-Walker community. Please meet the +1 Peer Mentor program at Whitman-Walker. +1  is a peer-to-peer support program for people living with HIV. The program pairs people living with HIV, who are keeping up with their medication and doctor appointments, with those who are newly diagnosed, new to treatment or re-engaging in care. In June 2018, the +1 Peer Mentor program celebrates its 10-year anniversary!

In October 2017, The Atlantic profiled +1 mentor and mentee duo: Tony Burns and Derrick “Strawberry” Cox. Read the full How Mentorship Can Be Life-Changing for People Living with HIV interview here.

Four Quotes from Tony and Strawberry’s Interview:

Tony On Getting His Start in Mentorship:

“I hadn’t really ever thought about mentorship before. One day, I was at Whitman-Walker and the two founding managers, Justin Goforth and Meghan Davies, came to me and said, ‘Tony, we’ve got someone here who tested positive for HIV.’ This young man was having a really difficult time handling it, and Justin and Meghan thought, ‘Let’s get him somebody to talk to right now, somebody who has been through it,’ and so they came and got me. As God or fate would have it, that young man was 31 years old, which is the same age I was when I was diagnosed. And at that point in time, I had been managing HIV for the better part of 17 years.”

Recording their story of mentorship with StoryCorps. Tony, left and Strawberry, center.

Tony On How Your Stability Affects Your Medical Adherence:

“I’m very proud of him [Strawberry]. I can remember when he first came on board as a mentee that he was having problems with employment and housing. One of the things that I believe in is there has to be a practical approach. Is your housing stable? Do you have a job? What about school? Are you in a safe place? All those kinds of considerations matter because if those things are not in sync, then there will be challenges to you staying adherent to your HIV medication and staying engaged in your care.”

Tony in Whitman-Walker’s 2016 We See You campaign photoshoot.

Strawberry On Connecting with People Newly Diagnosed with HIV:

“Any time I talk to a newly diagnosed person, I will let them know that, like your doctor said, or your therapist said, it’s not a death sentence. It’s okay, you can still live. I tell people I see my ART [antiretrovirals] like a men’s One A Day, like a vitamin pill. And if you have any type of stress or trauma behind anything, you have people that you can talk to. I’ll let them know that they are definitely not alone: Whether you experience a good or bad thing, trust me—you’re not the only person that’s been through it.”

Tony, center, at Whitman-Walker’s 2017 World AIDS Day prayer breakfast.

Tony On the Rewards of Mentorship:

“I think that being a mentor is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Mentoring has given me a gift that I never could foresee coming. I’ve seen folks who were in temporary housing get their own place. I’ve seen folks who didn’t have a job get a job, and go on to go to school. I see their eyes become clearer when they have figured out a way to get through the fog of HIV. It is just the best thing, one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of, or had a chance to witness. I have been able to fight stigma and confront it in real life, in real-time, with my faith, my story.”

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