book cover healingThe HIV/AIDS epidemic has been taking lives of many people around the world. Since 1980s, today’s research has caused this disease to no longer be a death sentence, especially when detected early. But Fayth Parks, her co-editors and authors have discovered a deep rooted issue with this epidemic in HIV/AIDS in Rural Communities

How the Story Developed

Kendall: What was your inspiration for writing HIV/AIDS in Rural Communities? Is there a particular story or person who inspired you?

Fayth: In 1997, the Champaign-Urbana Illinois Public Health District asked for volunteers to join the African American HIV/AIDS Awareness Project.  At the time, I was a doctoral student at the University of Illinois. I decided to join the Steering Committee as a community volunteer. The Steering Committee members settled on a three pronged approach: outreach activities, risk prevention/support services and media/public relations.

We developed initiatives such as the annual GospelFest (promoting AIDS advocacy in African American churches) and “Taking the Message to the Streets.”  On a Saturday morning during early spring, we walked the neighborhoods knocking door to door to share information brochures on HIV/AIDS.  At the time, African Americans made up 42% of all AIDS cases in Illinois with AIDS rates 15 times higher for black women than for white women.

I made a commitment to continue working on HIV/AIDS issues whenever possible.  Sadly, over 30 years later, we’re still fighting the epidemic. HIV is no longer a death sentence, if the person gets an early diagnosis and has access to quality healthcare.

Kendall: How did you plan out the structure of the anthology?

Fayth: As editors, we created an outline of topics to cover in the anthology. The book’s chapters are the best conference presentations given at the Rural HIV Research and Training Conference held annually in Savannah, Georgia.  Additionally, we invited experts to write about topics related to HIV/AIDS and rural American communities.

Conducting Proper Research

Kendall: The book is heavily research based with many statistics but with hints of wonderful story telling, like Catherine Wyatt’s story. Who do you envision as the audience for HIV/AIDS in Rural Communities?

Fayth: Catherine Wyatt’s story informs the reader about the stigma and discrimination experienced by marginalized people. But it’s also a story of hope and empowerment.  Catherine describes grassroots organizing at the community-level, but also the structural and hidden barriers that constrain the full potential of community-level efforts.  African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses, those living with HIV, and those who have ever received an AIDS diagnosis, compared to other races/ethnicities. African American women are especially vulnerable to new infections, running at more than 16 times the rate seen in white women.

This book’s audiences are healthcare professionals, educators, social justice advocates, and anyone interested in the unique challenges of the HIV epidemic in rural America.

Kendall: Can you tell us about the research process for this book?

Fayth: My co-editors and I have over 30 years’ experience working in HIV/AIDS research, primary healthcare practice, continuing education training, consulting, and social justice advocacy. The research process involved finding and inviting book chapter author/contributors who have experience working in rural communities either as researchers, healthcare providers, social justice advocates, or people living with HIV/AIDS.

Writing with Others 

Kendall: How did the collaboration process work? How did you divide up the work and are there aspects you did more together?

Fayth: Book chapter author/contributors submitted their chapters. As editors, we reviewed and edited each chapter.  Then we asked contributors to revise and resubmit their chapter. After final submissions were accepted, we worked together on the book’s preface/introduction. Although we summarized the book’s aims in our book proposal to the publisher, the whole book needed to be completed before we could write the introduction.

Kendall: I always find it difficult to write in a group setting. We all have different styles of writing. How was it editing with two other individuals with multiple contributors? Do you have any tips for other writers seeking a similar path?

Fayth: I work closely with my co-editors planning the annual Rural HIV Research and Training Conference. So we had a good working relationship. There were occasions when we had to resolve editing differences.  We didn’t want to give confusing feedback to an author/contributor. It’s important to set aside your ego to make choices that promote the project. Since we’re all experts, we chose the best ideas.

Tedx Talks and Cultural Healing

Kendall: In relation to Catherine Wyatt-Morley’s story, do you believe that through cultural healing, Catherine is able to show significant improvement in her quality of life after finding out she was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS? Do you think she can be used an example for others?

Fayth: I know enough about Catherine’s story to say that she is a woman of faith. Her religious beliefs play an important role in her life. Catherine integrates spirituality and health. Cultural healing acts as a structure for interpretation of meaning when dealing with crisis. The cultural healing system shapes her personal psychology. While we have different stories when life challenges us, we share the struggle to find ways to cope with situations that put us to the test.

Kendall: After watching your TEDx Talk – How Culture Connects to Healing and Recovery, how do you believe culture can help individuals who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS find healing?

healing traditions and culture

Fayth in Northern Thailand studying culture, spiritual traditions and healing.

Fayth: Cultural healing acts as a structure for finding meaning and coping strategies when dealing with a crisis. A culturally-relevant healing system shapes your personal psychology.

Kendall: Through your research, have you seen improvements in healing of individuals who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, such as reduction in symptoms or effects of HIV/AIDS?

Fayth: For HIV/AIDS, complementary therapies include yoga, massage, meditation and visualization. Some individuals use acupuncture and herbal medicine. These therapies focus on the mind/body connection. There are proven benefits to meditation and visualization practices.  Focusing the mind and increasing self-awareness are powerful tools.

However, an individual should be cautious about some natural/herbal medicines. They can interact with HIV medicines and cause side effects or worse. There are no definitive research studies that say these treatments work. However, people do report some positive benefits. I advise consulting with a primary care physician before starting any complementary therapies.

Kendall: While researching culture connections to healing and recovery, and HIV/AIDS, did you find anything surprising?

Fayth: I don’t think we give enough respect to the healing power of the arts.  The many forms of cultural expression that have given HIV/AIDS a voice, sound, and visual image. Music and songs and other expressive arts help individuals cope, raise awareness, inspire, and heal.

Think about the power of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. It’s a memorial for those who have died of AIDS. It’s a powerful visual reminder of the epidemic’s impact.

Another example is the song Waterfalls made popular by the R&B girl group TLC. The song is about engaging in behavior without thinking about consequences. One verse is about a guy who has unprotected sex. His health starts fading, but he doesn’t know why. The song reveals that he’s contracted HIV. It’s a cautionary tale.  This hip hop influenced girl group also wore condoms as accessories and a fashion statement.

TEDx Talk Advice

Kendall: How did you prepare for your TEDx Talks? What were the challenges? Do you have any advice for aspiring authors and authors seeking to give a TEDx Talk?

Fayth: The challenge is finding time to write your talk and practice, practice, practice before the live event. Giving a TEDx Talk is like walking a tight rope without a net—it’s live!  If someone is interested in giving a TEDx Talk, find a local organization that sponsors the event. You could organize one yourself.  Just Google organizing TEDx events for details.

Kendall: On your website for Rising Sun Productions, you express how you believe that through storytelling and active listening, we can “lessen the gap between us.” How do you think we can lessen the gap between individuals with HIV/AIDS and others in the rural communities they live in? How can we help those with HIV/AIDS find their voice if the audience isn’t listening?

Fayth: Your question brings to mind the challenge of stigma. There’s still a lot of stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. I’m a co-investigator on a recent survey of rural healthcare providers. We asked them to list stereotypes you’ve heard about people living with HIV in your community. They responded: “dirty, drug users, promiscuous, sex workers, gay, and irresponsible.”

So the best way to lessen the gap in rural communities is by raising awareness and fighting stigma. It’s best to find community leaders and local stakeholders to support HIV prevention and the fight against the epidemic. Research has clearly proven that access to treatment improves the health of people living with HIV and significantly reduces deaths. However, the HIV epidemic continues to disproportionately affect the U.S. South and specific subpopulations.

Writing and Publishing Tips

Kendall: What was the publishing process like? Any tips for other writers?

Fayth: Of course, the first step is writing a great book proposal. Actually, I inquired if the publisher would be interested in a book about the topic of HIV and rural American communities before sending the proposal.

It did take a couple attempts before my email was forwarded to the right editor at Springer Publishing. So the tip I would give is keep trying. Don’t get discouraged if you either get a rejection or the run around. You have to have passion and patience.

Kendall: You attended Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course. How did that course help you in the writing and publishing process? What tips did you learn there that you applied to your book writing?

Fayth: I attended two HMS/CME courses: Writing, Publishing, and Social Media for Healthcare Professional and Career Advancement and Leadership Skills for Women in Healthcare. I learned important tips including researching your market, increasing my social media activities, and how to pitch your book idea to publishers. I participated in a live 3 minute book pitch with a panel of publishers.  Though intimidating, the feedback was priceless.

At the Leadership Skills for Women program, I networked with some wonderful women and heard inspiring speakers.  The most important tips I learned: build and mentor your team and learn what inspires them. Most importantly, I should have a vision. Think big!

Kendall: Any final tips for our readers?

writing tips and booksFayth: I suggest that aspiring authors learn about the writing process by reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Her chapter about first drafts is liberating. Over the years, I’ve re-read chapters from Lamott’s book whenever I get discouraged. My last tip is no matter how hard or how long “Don’t give up!”

Fayth M. Parks is a psychologist, a writer and a teacher, who is an expert on healing traditions. She teaches at the university level and has published academic articles, essays and book chapters on this topic as well as given invited lectures and presentations. Traditions are not only beliefs and practices to mend physical bodies, but to build resilience using medicinal arts and oral tradition. She believes healing traditions can enlighten our modern quest to find pathways to greater well-being. She was honored to be selected the 2009 David B. Larson Fellow in Health and Spirituality at The John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress. Visit Rising Sun Productions. Connect with Fayth on Twitter.

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