RIP, Anna Jackson. You were a Warrior.

HIV Sisters: Anna Jackson (2008)

I was sucked into the Facebook vortex this past MLK weekend when I saw an update from Anna Jackson. It was actually posted by her daughter, Rissa. The updates here posted as if Rissa were speaking directly to her mother. I was in shock. Anna passed away on January 12, 2012. Rissa was mourning the loss hoping to channel her mother and received tremendous support from Anna’s circle of family and friends. It was difficult to believe that Anna is no more. Her personality just filled up the room that it’s hard to imagine that we no longer get that.

I met Anna Jackson in the summer of 2008 while doing an artist residency with members of the New Jersey Women & AIDS Network (NJWAN). I wanted to collaborate with women and girls who were infected, impacted, & at risk for HIV/AIDS and who felt comfortable sharing their stories for a video project that would become a living, digital HIV/AIDS quilt called HIV Sisters. It wasn’t easy finding women and girls who wanted to participate in spite of trying to recruit people for a few months. But Anna stepped up to the challenge without any hesitation: she was fearless. Anna knew her story was important and wanted to share it with others to make a difference.

Having mostly learned about HIV/AIDS through the eyes of gay men & sex workers, I lived for a decade in the bubble that is known as San Francisco. I thought that everyone who was positive was out about being infected and impervious to the HIV stigma that is fueled by the scared & uneducated. As I embarked on HIV Sisters, I found that this was not the case. The communities that are hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic & stigma are people of color & even more specifically low income Black & Latina women & girls. The rising infection statistics for this population is disproportional and staggering when compared to their white counterparts. Nearly 80% of the new infections amongst females are Black and Latina. 80%! And being a person of color, female, & HIV+ is a triple whammy. But for Anna, these identities and more were a source of courage, not shame. There was no hiding in the shadows for Anna for a disease she unintentionally contracted.

During a steamy afternoon in July 2008, I filmed Anna with her youngest son Abdul and then with her two granddaughters Emija and Violet. Another one of her sons wasn’t ready for his camera op: he was having a bad hair day. Anna’s backyard was so overgrown with grass and bushes that I thought I’d stumbled into a forest. Throughout the time that we filmed, many a mosquito drank our blood, but I thought it was important to stick it out & film outdoors because the lush green matched Anna’s vibrancy, her zest for life and temperment for nurturing a younger generations of Jacksons who were of an age where being wild is a rite of passage. We initially filmed a dialogue between Anna and Abdul who wanted to remain anonymous. Anna spoke to Abdul about being HIV+ at the time that she was pregnant with him. She told him how she felt incredibly fortunate when he repeatedly tested negative at several intervals after his birth. Abdul did not sero-convert (also become HIV+) and Anna felt God listened to her prayers. In spite of Abdul’s reluctance to offer up his opinions, Anna took great patience to draw him into conversation & he slowly let down his guard. It was the kind of care only a mother has for a child when she’s treading difficult territory and wants to simultaneously shield & empower him.

HIV Sisters: Anna Jackson and her granddaughters Violet & Emijah

Anna had a similar dialogue with her granddaughters though her questions were more direct and pointed: she knew that her granddaughters could take what was coming and run with it. Anna asked, “Did any of your friends come to y’all and say anything like, “Your grandmother got HIV?” and “If a boy tried to have sex with you and stuff, what would you do?” Neither Violet nor Emija appeared fazed by their grandma’s series of blunt questions. As I filmed, I imagined having a similar conversation with my mom and it made me uneasy–and I’m a full-grown adult! It made me want to be non-judgmental like Anna so that when I have that conversations like these with my future child so that (s)he feels comfortable and open to speaking his/her mind. Neither Violet nor Emija squirmed and their honesty and candor matched that of their grandmother. It’s the shying away from having these difficult conversations with the people who mean the most to us that’s allowed HIV/AIDS to destroy individuals, families, and communities.

I’m not exactly certain at this time what the circumstances were in Anna passing away, but it involves her battling cancer and it comes as a shock. I know that many people with AIDS (PWAs) nowadays die more often of AIDS-related complications rather than from the virus itself.

Anna wanted to live even when she was being self-destructive. She kicked her drug addiction, transitioned out of survival sex, & got treatment for her HIV. She became a leader within her family and community as an exceptional advocate for PWAs. I remember Anna surprising me one day when we met to discuss her video. She enthusiastically played a song for me that she had recently recorded which beautifully sums up who she is: I Am (Anna Jackson). She wanted it to be part of HIV Sisters and her story. She hoped to record more songs because she said that it lifted her spirits. The last time I saw Anna in person was the night we premiered the collection of HIV Sister films (then called Sistahs Survive & Thrive) in February 2009 in Newark. Anna beamed throughout the night & Emija was by her side. It was an emotional moment for all of us as we celebrated the fruits of our labor & shared them with an audience hungry to hear how women are living with HIV/AIDS.

Premiere of "Sistahs Survive & Thrive" videos (L-R: Janice, Wanda, Hima, & Anna)

The world is a little dimmer today because Anna is not here with us to enjoy it. I will miss her but know that her legacy lives on & will not be forgotten by those of us fortunate enough to have known her & felt the warmth of her love.

RIP, Anna Jackson (February 29, 1956 to January 12, 2012)

Premiere of "Sistahs Survive & Thrive" videos (R-L: Anna, Hima, & Janice)

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Comments
2 Responses to “RIP, Anna Jackson. You were a Warrior.”
  1. Rose says:

    I do know anna jackson. RIP. My name is Rose. I am Quannie’s aunt . Quannie is also anna’s nephew. My prayers are with you. God Bless all of you.

  2. Rose says:

    RIP Anna my name is Roxanne Randle I am Quantes Randle’s mom. Back in the day It was a pleasure being around Anna. She was a beautiful person. Eddie hang in there. my prayes are with you and your family. Love you all. Roxanne.

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