August 26, 2009

AIDS is the Antithesis of Cool

This past year I got to do a lot of really neat work alongside those fighting against AIDS and everything that comes with the disease, including but certainly not limited to; stigma, medical bills, loss of hope, etc.

Last November I visited an all-male support group within the walls of Arthur Kill State Penitentiary on Staten Island where we chatted. And I mean it. (Chelsea Lately would then extract my "fun fact" from my Miss America talent and made fun of me. Neat.) Looking back, I realize this night was a turning point in my life. Think about the scene like this: little white pageant winner marching into prison to talk about AIDS with a group of incredibly diverse imprisoned men. By the end of our conversation one of the men, Hector, who had been in prison for 25 years and presently suffering from AIDS, stood up and charged me with the responsibility of "being their voice". We broke down walls and somewhere in there they came to believe I had the capability, as well as the capacity, of sharing their stories and rectifying not only society's views of them as prisoners, but also as victims of AIDS. A month later I took a public AIDS test on World AIDS Day in conjunction with my belief that everyone needs to know their status.

Please stay with me. I promise I have even cooler things to talk to you about.

Before I was Miss New York I did some other things that have moved me to help this group we have marginalized within our communities. After my 2nd year of college I worked in South Africa teaching elementary, middle school, and high school students (as well as their families) about AIDS, and the lifelong affects. Upon reflection I realize that I gave these people the tools to literally save their lives. And let's get cheesy, their futures.

That kicked off my "kick AIDS in the face" frenzy. May 2008 I participated in AIDS Walk NY. Thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers participate in the walk, and I have to say, it's a truly remarkable experience. But, the coolest part for me was being able to walk, and raise money with an unbelievable group of young people. There were a little over 30 of us that made up Team Supersnack. The final result? $58,000 raised and one of the top 10 teams involved in the entire thing. I mean, literally Delta, MAC, and Kenneth Cole were some of the others in the ten. Rad, right?

Well, what's not rad is the fact that the AIDS epidemic is continuing to ravage the United States. The rate of infection in our nation's capital is on par with UGANDA. Not okay. Not okay. Not okay. (I'm still saying it in my head, but I'll spare you.)

SO, can you tell where I'm going with this?

I need your help. And so do lots of people around this country. I'm walking in AIDS Walk DC with Team Supersnack and I'd really like it if you helped out this cause. And if I could be a Star Walker again (I raised over $1,000 last time around which in turn earned me a paper crown ... case closed).

My donation page (Sorry, it won't link up! Best to Copy and Paste into your browser!) :

Also, I've been asked to go to our state's capital, Albany, on World AIDS Day to be the keynote speaker. Let's prove that I'm worthy of this invite, because believe me, I'm psyched to get a handle on this disease.

PS: Finally posted in honor of the late Senator Ted Kennedy whose compassion for those suffering from AIDS was clear and led to the Ryan White CARE Act which, essentially, provided federal funding to help assist those living with AIDS.

August 17, 2009

Peachy Keen

That's how I feel about life right now.

When things happen now, I think, "DANG! I should totally blog about that!" But then I realize that I would rather give a friend a hug. Or, let's be honest, have a glass of red wine and kick it with people I haven't been able to spend some q.t. (quality time, that is) with this year. And then next thing I know, I'm nearly a month behind. But, at least it isn't a month. Because, in reality, I think when people get that far off track with something they just let it be thinking it's harder to jump back on the train. Anyways, I want to let you know what I'm going to be doing with my life this year! No more of that ambiguous, fingers-crossed behind my back type thing.

Two Thursdays ago I was accepted into the Fashion Marketing program at Parsons (The New School) for Design here in Manhattan. I'd had that as my goal for a couple of months, but I wanted to tend to Miss NY things, wrap 'em up, and of course, being a slight procrastinator, apply on the last day of rolling applications. I had this gurgly feeling in my stomach that it might be like that awesome Teach For America email I got in 2K7 letting me know they didn't need my help on their "force". Or, whatever incredibly fierce term they use. When I say awesome, I'm not being sarcastic. It took me a while to realize it but in the long run my life has totally panned out as it should have. But, nay, this said "CONGRATULATIONS". At that point, without reading any further, I called my mom who got a little excited, but assured me she had faith in my abilities. FYI: that's what she said before the TFA email. But, I digress.

Anyhow, the news came at a perfect time. I had just settled back here in NYC after some time in VA and I was gearing up to head to Costa Rica with Paul's family. I actually sent my application acceptance letter via Costa Rican fax. My next blog will be about the trip. Here are some tid-bits to keep your eyes on the lookout: horses that go backwards, roads so awesomely gravel-ly they make your license plates hang by a single bolt, and zip-lining through canyons. All done with 7 of the coolest people around. What. A. Blast.

Which makes it easy for you to understand why I didn't want to peel myself out of bed this morning to go to ... SCHOOL! Not Parsons, though. New York Bartending School. I'm not kidding, y'all. I'm going to be a bartender here in NYC. Still think I'm kiddding? Come find me and my stained hands after pouring 8 hours of rails and martinis. Stained because we use fake juice and liquor (obviously, or we'd be wasting dollah dollah bills). It was so much fun. I'll keep you filled in on the week, too. Because goodness knows there will be mucho (see my Spanglish infiltrating after a week of immersion?) to share.

Until then, I hope your Mondays were as blessed as mine.

I'm a lucky girl and believe me, I'm super grateful.

PS: My mom's facebook status yesterday was, "Leigh-Taylor is home!!! hiphiphooray!!!!!". I'm considering going to Paris in the Spring to study for a semester (though Paul wants me to stay until July for an extra excuse to come out for the Tour, but again I digress) ... I was only gone a week. You do the math. Skype, anyone?