Stephanie Laster is an active advocate for Black women living with HIV. Her dedication to education and activism is admirable, but her journey to becoming a force in the HIV/AIDS awareness community is heartbreaking.
Four loved ones, taken by HIV. Her aunt, whose sudden illness sparked a chain of diagnoses. Believing cancer was the cause, her aunt passed away from AIDS-related illness, leaving behind Stephanie’s uncle and two-year-old nephew. As the child grew, concerns with frequent nosebleeds prompted the family to seek testing. Everyone was HIV positive. Soon Stephanie would have to mourn the loss of not only her uncle, but her beloved mother—just a few days shy of turning 56. While tending to her own medical needs, Stephanie became the main caregiver for her young cousin; raising him like her own until he lost his battle with HIV at only 23 years old. Bearing the load of unimaginable grief, Stephanie knew that with the proper education and precaution—the people she loved most would still be here.
As Stephanie grieved, she got to work. Partnering with many local HIV/AIDS organizations: SisterLove Inc, the Ryan White Planning Council for the Metropolitan Atlanta Health Group, and the NAMES Project to share her story and to provide resources, education, and safe-sex information to her community. Stephanie found healing in her activism. An impeccable craftsperson, she weaved the names of her fallen family members into a panel of the National AIDS Memorial quilt. Four loved ones. Four names. Four reasons to persevere. Their legacy lives on in her.
Stephanie is a dedicated ally to the underserved. Focusing her activism on Black women over 50, she recognized the need to care for the caretakers and worked to grant access to accurate HIV/AIDS information so women like her can make informed decisions about their health.
Stephanie turned her grief into giving. As a workshop leader, motivational speaker, and advocate Stephanie changed the pattern, encouraging others to find healing and fight for their lives.
It's time to Change the Pattern in the fight to end HIV and AIDS in the Southern United States. Be a part of this new initiative!