Event Summary: RiseUp!

The Rise Up! A Celebration of Life event took place on Thursday, March 7, 2013 and was put on by 16 collaborating organizations and agencies from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Harvard Medical School (HMS), Harvard College, local Native American communities, New England and Boston. Rise Up! took place in the HMS Atrium and Amphitheatre in Boston, MA and commemorated International Women’s Day on March 8th, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10th, and National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 20th.

The event started at 5:00pm with 20 attendees participating in a poetry workshop led by featured poet Tanaya Winder (Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations), who taught an Indigenous model of storytelling through spoken word and poetry. Seven organizations and individuals set up tables to give out materials and information about their work that ranged from Native/Indigenous programs and services in Boston to HIV education and awareness. Participants had the opportunity to sign up for free, rapid HIV and/or Hepatitis C testing provided by Fenway Health.

The spoken word and poetry performance portion of the event kicked off at 6:30pm with Shelly Lowe (Diné), president of Harvard University Native American Program, welcoming attendees to the event and giving opening remarks. She was followed by Elizabeth Solomon (Massachusett at Ponkapoag), the Assistant Director of Academic Affairs in the HSPH Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, who gave an opening blessing. Jennifer Kreisberg (Tuscarora, North Carolina) then gave a stunning singing and hand drum performance for the opening song. Mexican food from El Pelón Taquería was served for dinner, and included vegan tamales and fair trade coffee from Blue State Coffee. Despite a snow storm lowering numbers of attendance, a total of 100 people participated in this year’s Rise Up! event, with 6 people getting tested for HIV and 1 tested for Hepatitis C.

Emcees Hannabah Blue (Diné) and Tanaya Winder led the open mic, during which 6 people from the audience shared poems and stories. Many were relevant to the topics of the night, HIV/AIDS, Indigenous/Native peoples, women and girls, and social and reproductive justice and rights. Featured poet Tanaya Winder also hit on these topics when she delivered a powerful performance of spoken word and poetry pieces.

The emcees announced at the event that through the efforts of members of the Rise Up! Planning Committee, the City of Boston passed a proclamation recognizing March 7, 2013 as Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in the City of Boston. The Proclamation was offered by Councillor Michael P. Ross in District 8 where HSPH and HMS are located, and was signed by the President of the City Council, Stephen J. Murphy. The Proclamation was read by planning committee members Younyoung Lee, a Student Ambassador from the HSPH Office of Diversity, and Carole Blodgett, local Native community member.

Q’orianka Kilcher (Quecha), who was the featured speaker, gave a motivating speech discussing the work she has been doing in bringing about awareness to sex trafficking of women and girls in the United States. She showed the trailer of the upcoming web series she is producing, “The Life,” which is about sex trafficking of young girls in New York City. She also showed a video showing a coming of age ceremony for young boys in an African county that has one of the highest rates of HIV, and talked about the importance of incorporating traditional Indigenous practices into teachings today for young people.

A representative from all of the collaborating organizations was called to the stage and thanked by receiving a small gift and items that were raffled off as door prizes. The event concluded with a closing song from Jennifer Kreisberg, and a closing blessing from Shelly Lowe.