Woman on the Front Lines
Kengi says “How many people get to grow up with people they consider to be a hero? How many people get to write about the awesome work their childhood friend does for people living with HIV? I get all this in my friend Michelle.”
Recently I had the chance to attend the annual Leadership Awards presented by the Los Angeles Women’s Task Force on HIV. I knew many of the women receiving the honor, but was really excited to be there to support someone I’ve had the pleasure of calling my friend since 7th grade while growing up in Santa Monica.
Yep, Michelle Simek and I have been friends since way, way back in the day while attending Lincoln Jr. High School and Santa Monica High School in Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. She knew me when my curly fro was almost of long as it is today. In fact, she will tell you that I was color blocking long before anyone knew what it was. She can also tell you about the time I vomited in Mr. Brown’s Algebra class. Fun times for sure.
Michelle and I lost contact after we graduated from Samohi. I think this was because she picked that public school located in Westwood, California (UCLA) and I went to a private school across town that kicks her school's ass and has more Rose Bowl appearances and championships than any other. Yep, I went to USC…..FIGHT ON!!!
Although I think Michelle and I came across each other after I was diagnosed and when she was working at AIDS Research Alliance when I was dropping off Do Something Kits to her office which happened to be located in the same building where Being Alive was once located. It wasn’t until September, 2010 that I remembered who she was.
I signed up for the AIDS Treatment Education Training that she was facilitating for AIDS Project Los Angeles. I called her office and asked if she went to Lincoln. She said yes and then I asked if she went to Samohi? Again she answered yes, but I could tell she was a bit nervous. I then asked if she graduated in 1987. Michelle said yes, but then asked “Who is this?” in her firm, but concerned voice. I laughed and told her who I was and that’s when we both broke into laughter.
Since that call Michelle and I have been as close, excuse me, CLOSER than we were growing up in Santa Monica. She is the first and only friend from childhood who did not judge me, come back into my life to see how far I’d fallen, nor did she say things like “would you like a book to read?” She did not go around telling people that I was once homeless and now HIV-positive either. She was the same sweet friend that I had from a long time ago and for this I am so appreciative.
Michelle is someone I can call for advice and guidance for helping the people I try so hard to serve. As well as for me. She is someone I trust, someone I know truly cares for people with HIV. I say this because I see her working. I’ve had the chance to work side by side with her and I’ve even been able to refer people to her and each time she does all she can to help them. Michelle is like my ACE in the hole. When I’ve tried everything I know to help someone in need and I have no other options, I can always call Michelle and she will brainstorm with me to come up with a plan to help.
I always smile so large when I hear others speaking about her. I’m always thinking to myself. “Good job Michelle” and “Yeah, that’s my friend.”
In a world where so many people in the field of HIV are only in it for a job or a free trip or far too busy to care, Michelle is the cream of the crop. She works late…..even on Friday. I can call her on weekends and she always makes time. Her clients not just respect her, they love her. I hear all the time clients saying they would be lost without her support.
Being able to see her get her award was so freaking awesome. It was like watching my friend win an Emmy or an Oscar, which she may very well do one day, because she is a kick ass actor as well. I had the pleasure of holding her hand while someone spoke about her and the great work that she does. I had the honor of showing up for her, like all the times she’s showed up for me when I needed help getting a client what they needed.
Michelle represents everything that is right with people who work in the field of HIV. Her heart is pure and in it for the right reasons. Her intentions and actions are backed with love and great care for the people she serves. Her honesty and compassion are so rare and often go overlooked and unrecognized, but as someone battling HIV and hearing from those who've had the honor of benefiting from her service, we all will tell you that she is a huge blessing for us and we fully appreciate and love all the hard work she does for us.
Michelle, I’m so honored to call you friend. Inspired by you and the work you do for other without fail. You encourage me to do more and be better. So if you never hear it again, please hear it now. THANK YOU. I fully appreciate you and I know plenty of others do as well. If there was a lifetime achievement award for people like you, you’d win it each and every years hands down because your love, care and compassion for people living with HIV or AIDS, even for families, friends and loved ones of those infected with HIV or AIDS, is unmatched by any other.
Simply put…..YOU ROCK!!!!! Congratulations on the award.
Michelle is theBilingual Treatment Educator at AIDS Project Los Angeles.