The Canadian Positive People Network (CPPN) / Reseau Canadien Des Personnes Seropositives (RCPS) is a new independent network for and by people living with HIV and HIV co-infections in Canada. We exist as a people’s network to represent the needs of all persons and communities affected by HIV and HIV co-infections. We help ensure the movement is coordinated nationally, provincially, regionally, and locally to benefit the affected people and communities, and that we are connected with the global HIV response.
There is a calmness to the presence of Robert Bardston, long before he begisn performing captivating music from his cello or uses his rich voice. Born a black American from Louisville, Kentucky this cello virtuoso and vocalist now lives in Canada where his performances have been met with an astounding response. Interpretation of the HIV journey through music and experience is what draws him to his peers. He has come full circle through his musical talent and demonstrates tist with passion and humour as an engagingly strong force while supporting and advocating for people living with HIV.
“For my generation it was a crisis and a catastrophe that this disease just sort of popped up out of nowhere and began taking lives. I completely rejected the doctor telling me that I was going to die in five years. I thought he was crazy. A gay disease? Whoever heard of a disease that attacked only one part of the population? More than anything, I want survivors like me to realize they aren't alone.There is an intrinsic penchant for hopelessness in this age group that requires, and is only relieved by, the empathy of the entire PHA community. This generation of long-term survivors needs the acceptance and protection of society to accept and protect itself.” Robert Bardston
Philip: What do you think is the biggest misconception about living with HIV/AIDS in the Prairies?
Robert: I think the biggest misconception is that there is a movement in the Prairies. The paucity of stakeholders and the distances between individuals and activity centres results in a feeling of isolation which easily leads to depression and despair over one's condition. Isolation and stigma are the major adversaries to positive HIV health in the three Prairie provinces.
Who is your role model, and why?
There are so many players in the HIV movement whom I admire that is impossible to choose one as my role model. There are, however, three persons who I call the Triumvirate whose impact on me is truly profound. Valerie Pierre-Pierrre (African and Caribbean Council on HIV/AIDS in Ontario (ACCHO), Shannon Ryan (Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP), and Wangari Tharao (Women’s Health In Women’s Hands) are HIV advocates in the Canadian ACB community whose work, dedication and attitude I strive to emulate. Each of them shows a tenacity evidencing that they care about the issue and the affected people. While demonstrating a wealth of knowledge and ingenuity, they maintain a perspective that produces history-making humane innovations. They embody the concept of all for one and one for all and prove committed collaboration is key to success in social advocacy.
How will CPPN/RCPS ensure that Canada’s first poz organization is resilient and sustainable?
I am confident that if CPPN continues to take its cues from listening to the heartbeat of its constituency it will remain strong and true and able to address any adversarial situations.
Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your involvement as a person living with HIV.
The most important project was the presentation of my performance "Music and Musings of a 27 Year Survivor" in Washington, DC. It was proven to me that each person living with HIV including myself, has a story to share which enables others to better combat their HIV challenges.
What are the biggest opportunities facing CPPN/RCPS right now?
CPPN has the opportunity of leading the country to a recognition that a national strategy on HIV is paramount to achieving any greater goals such as 20-20-20. Simply put: No plan = No action.
About Robert: Robert was diagnosed with HIV in 1985. He passionately began his HIV advocacy in 1995. Declared a designated 'Community Leader for local HIV Community Link - Medicine Hat' he became a full time HIV activist upon retirement from cello instructorship at Medicine Hat College and University of Lethbridge after the death of his partner to AIDS. Founder of Artists against AIDS, Robert developed a musical presentation dealing with AIDS awareness which was featured at International AIDS Conferences in Washington, DC and Melbourne, Australia. Robert is currently a board member for GNP+NA, Positive Voices Caucus, presently in second term as Co-Chair of the Canadan HIV/AIDS Black, African and Caribbean Network (CHABAC), and a founding member of CPPN/RCPS.