The 2018–2019 theme logo for the Pediatric AIDS Coalition. The theme aims to encompass the history of HIV; the ways in which HIV continues to be stigmatized; and how PAC, as an organization, wants to approach the coming year of fighting for our cause.

1. hold (someone) closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection

2. an act of holding someone closely in one’s arms

At the beginning of each year, the Pediatric Aids Coalition chooses a word that will embody the work we wish to accomplish, as well as touch on a relevant characteristic of our cause. This year that word is EMBRACE.

To embrace, by definition, is to hold (someone) closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection. The word embrace, however, can also be defined as an act of accepting or supporting something willingly or enthusiastically. We’ve all felt a familiarity in both of these definitions; the warmth of an embrace from a close friend after a long day, or the choice to embrace a difficult task, and complete it to the best of your ability. Embrace as a mental characteristic also encompasses the compassion, understanding, and empathy that often comes with the comfort of embrace. This year it is essential to highlight the importance of both physically embracing our fight against pediatric HIV and AIDS, by showing affection to those with it, which can be done with a simple hug, as well mentally embracing the work that needs to be done to successfully combat a virus as multifaceted as HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS has a difficult past when it comes to the understanding of the disease and its stereotypes have been perpetuated through undereducation and stigmatization. Such stereotypes are primarily based on falsehoods and assumptions without much academic backing. A primary misbelief of individuals with HIV/AIDS is that the virus can be spread through skin to skin contact, which is FALSE. This misconception has led to a lack of intimacy and physical affection for both adults and children who tested positive for the virus. Children are refused physical contact from friends, family, and even medical staff, which has led to feelings of alienation, guilt, and being unloved. That is why this year, the physical act of embrace is a huge focal point for us. In proving the strength of this physical sense of embrace, we, as a Coalition, as a school, and as a society must be willing to educate ourselves on the cause, and develop a greater sense of empathy for what we can’t experience. Empathy and education will result in embrace, for our cause, for individuals with HIV/AIDS and for a greater society.

Let’s go back in time for a moment. The year is 1992. Nickelodeon is famous for shows like Pete and Pete and Doug, but also regularly airs an adolescent news special called Nick News with Linda Ellerbee. The show covers noteworthy news stories and often features children discussing the topic at hand, and being educated about it on air. At this time, there had yet to be a show on television that spoke about pediatric HIV/AIDS, because there was a large population of people who do not believe the topic is appropriate for mainstream television, alone children’s television. Meanwhile, NBA star Magic Johnson recently tested HIV positive and slowly had become a spokesman for the cause. Nick News had a controversial idea for a show: they devised a segment that showed not only that children’s innocent interactions allowed them to see far beyond the stigmatization of the disease, but that HIV-positive children were just like their peers. They craved intimacy, fun, appreciation, approval, and a group of friends that loved them. The show placed HIV positive children in the youth panel for that episode without a single member of the cast knowing which children were HIV positive. Shortly after Magic Johnson began giving a safe sex speech, the conversation gravitated towards social limitations of a child with HIV. The host then asked all those with HIV to raise their hands in the circle. Magic Johnson was the last person to raise his hand. In this segment, the children had been laughing together, shaking hands, hugging, and acting “normally” without being able to distinguish the children with HIV from those without it. The children began to embrace one another, and Magic held a child close to him while she wept and proclaimed that all she wanted was to be treated like a normal kid.

In this powerful broadcast, we can see not only the physical significance of the word “embrace,” but also the emotional powers that embracing someone can have. This was one of the first televised intimate interactions with an HIV positive child, and it shut down the falsehoods and stigmatization, if just for a moment. No one questioned the sterility of the comfort and no one gasped as the children embraced one another. These children had a seemingly better grasp of human compassion in those first ten minutes of interacting than most of the world had displayed in the fifteen years since the initial outbreak of the virus. Over the years, HIV/AIDS education made its way to the forefront of the cause, which slowly helped to combat the false stigmatization of the disease. However, the stereotypes still often creep through. One of the PAC’s ultimate goals to continue educating UCLA, our families and friends and our community about the FACTUAL elements of HIV/AIDS, and continue to eliminate false information about the disease.

The stigmatization of HIV/AIDS is not an issue which is easily solved, however, do not underestimate the simple power of an embrace. All it takes is a devotion to understanding people on a human level. A hug, a handshake, and a smile can help eliminate false stereotypes and stigmas, and not only embrace the challenge that is eradicating pediatric HIV/AIDS, but also embrace the importance of compassion, love, and understanding. PAC continues to embracethe endless opportunities to improve the lives of those with pediatric HIV/AIDS and work to prevent the transmission of the virus in the future.

Written by Isabella Goldsmith