Pat Nalls, founder and CEO of The Women’s Collective, is honored to be selected as a recipient of the Women of Excellence Awards, which recognizes women who have led trailblazing careers and continue to create new pathways for mothers, women, and girls in the District of Columbia to thrive. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Mayor’s Office on Women’s Policy and Initiatives (MOWPI) honored eight distinguished women leaders at the annual Washington Women of Excellence Awards. “This year’s honorees have led their way through one of the toughest times in our city and I am proud that they continue to make history here in the District and beyond,” said Mayor Bowser.” Pat commented, “Our team recognizes that our success is based on community engagement, partnerships, close collaboration with DC’s infrastructure, and daily grassroots outreach. We are really proud to be part of the solution for women and girls with HIV and AIDS in the District.”
For 39 years, Washingtonian Magazine has honored those who bring help and hope to the neediest among us, give at-risk children a fighting chance, enrich our educational and cultural lives, and make Washington a better place for all of us. AIDS is the leading cause of death in the US for African American women ages 24 to 35. Pat Nalls is one of the lucky ones. Her two living children were eight and four when she was diagnosed, and she didn’t expect to survive to see them graduate from high school. “I believe this all happened for a purpose,” she says of her past tragedies. “At the Women’s Collective, even before you get care, you get hope.”
Pat Nalls is among 20 Movement Mothers whose shoulders we stand on, who paved the way for us to do what we do today. These 20 Black Movement Mothers struggled, kicked through doors, and showed us the way. All the while they created spaces of radical love, refuge, and healing to uplift other Black women – especially women living with HIV. Black women have always been the backbone of the HIV movement, fighting battles on multiple fronts despite being underpaid, systemically undervalued, and invisible. It is long past time for Black women to be given their flowers for all they’ve done.
Helping our community of sisters brings us great joy! We are blessed to be able to share food baskets, toiletries, PPEs, undergarments, and other items with our clients. Even a small donation makes a big difference to the families we serve. “As you can see, the beautiful smiles are contagious,” said Tabitha Bennett, Operations/HR Manager of TWC. Events like our holiday party bring women together to provide strength, love, and peer support.
Our team regularly hits the streets of the DMV with our mobile van delivering HIV and Hepatitis C testing to our clients in the community. Our mission of community outreach also includes distributing condoms, educating schools about HIV/AIDS, and connecting women and their families to services they need.
Sanjay Gupta speaks to Pat Nalls, an HIV-positive mother who has become an advocate for AIDS awareness. Pat shares her heart-wrenching family story and how she became a powerful voice and advocate for women with HIV and AIDS.
TWC grew out of the life experience of Patricia Nalls, a woman living with HIV/AIDS who used her personal story to create this unique organization and model of care. Since 1992, The Women’s Collective has engaged women and girls living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS in a variety of ways that respect their expertise, ideas, voices, needs, and experiences.
An in-depth interview with Pat Nalls from her life as a young mother “living the American dream” to finding out her husband and three-year old daughter had AIDS, and she did, too. Pat beat all odds to raise her two HIV-free children while battling full-blown AIDS in silence, taking her medications in the closet so no one would see. Patricia shares her own story of being a long-term HIV survivor, how stigma impacts women and their families, and how everyone living with HIV deserves to be loved.
“We didn’t see our faces on the quilt as women, as women of color, as black women. We were invisible. We didn’t see ourselves. I’ve been to the Quilt on the Mall for many, many years,” said Pat Nalls. Pat put her thoughts into action and The Women’s Collective began quilting. “You know, sometimes those stiches are like tears for people. You know, finally they are able to lay it out and say this was my daughter, or this was my brother, or this was my lover, or this was my friend. The quilt is going to tell people: Look these are women. We’ve been here all along. This is us. We’re not hiding.”
The Women’s Collective was founded by Patricia Nalls as a safe place for women and girls living with HIV/AIDS and their families to find care, support, and community. Listen to the stories, thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, and find inspiration from an incredible community of women. As one of the clients said about The Women’s Collective, “You can come together as sisters and understand that everything is going to be alright.”
As part of World AIDS Day, an esteemed panel spoke about the topic “HIV/AIDS and the Next Generation: Are We Meeting Our Commitment to Our Youth?” They focused on federal AIDS policy in relation to youth and people of color, who were disproportionately affected by the disease. Pat Nalls spoke about women with HIV and the services TWC offers. She commented: “We have to look at HIV as affecting everyone, young and old. We are all at risk. … most messages to young women focus on pregnancy prevention not HIV prevention. … we need to start talking about HIV with these other issues. … we must push for peer-based programs.”
Video of Pat’s comments starts at 18:43 and runs to 29:14.
WTOP’s Thomas Warren’s week-long series “Generation Positive” is an in-depth look at the HIV epidemic in the U.S. and Washington, D.C. In a four-part web series and an eight-part series on-air, he takes a look at measures to beat HIV/AIDS and breakthrough developments in the search for a vaccine.
During an official visit to Washington DC, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé made a special stop at The Women’s Collective, a non-profit organization that provides HIV prevention, testing, care and support for women and their families in some of D.C.’s most underserved communities. Michel Sidibé expressed that he was he was touched by The Women’s Collective strength and leadership and emphasized UNAIDS’ commitment to place women at the center of the global AIDS response.
It all started with an anonymous phone line in the 1990s. At the time, few people understood or acknowledged that women could be, and were in fact, infected with HIV throughout the District of Columbia. Many of the pre-existing support groups were dominated by gay men. Pat often felt like an intruder as a single, working mother of color, coping with two monumental losses and the onset of HIV herself. To see the support she needed, Pat decided to install an anonymous phone line in her home and passed out flyers about it around town. “The phone started ringing, and women were calling,’ Pat said. “None of us wanted to show faces, so we talked secretly on the phone … sharing experiences and resources on how we were getting through HIV/AIDS.”
Strolling down Rhode Island Avenue from the metro to The Women’s Collective is like walking on a treadmill set in a Hollywood sound stage. The background changes continuously from homeless men lounging outside of mom-and-pop liquor stores to luxury condos under construction to established homes with iron-barred windows to an upscale outdoor mall with a TJMaxx, Home Depot, and a Giant that belongs in suburban Manassas. When I entered TWC, I was met by a life-sized silver fashion mannequin wearing a two-piece red gown, all made entirely of red condoms. If I didn’t know the TWC mission before I arrived, I knew now.