"Boots on the Ground"

In December of 2015 Contracting An Issue shifted our focus to a new community, Tampa/St Petersburg, FL, with the assistance of Metro Wellness we initiated our story auditions. Tampa/St Pete will be our third iteration of the Contracting An Issue HIV/AIDS awareness project. This project is a new experiment for us, in that we are not living in the location where we are collecting stories. Initially, we discovered that it is more difficult to truthfully connect, and see eye to eye, with a distant community. Never say die, and back to the drawing board. We asked ourselves, why? The answer, we need “boots on the ground,” someone who lives in the community and who will personally connect with people around what can be a taboo subject. An ambassadorship for the project was our likely next step, and Contracting An Issue is pleased to announce its first ambassador for the project, Willow Parsons.

Willow Parsons. KC, MO 2016

Willow Parsons. KC, MO 2016

We met with Willow at Contracting An Issue’s second stop in Kansas City, MO. At the time Willow was living in KC. After building a solid working relationship as well as a deep friendship, as Fate and Luck would have it Willow decided to relocate to the Tampa/St Pete area. Willow’s relocation promises to be a good move for her and Contracting An Issue, Fate at work. Our working model has always been to collaborate with as many people as possible. We asked ourselves, why not have ambassador in communities who can help is listen, and collect the stories. We asked Willow to join us, and happily she said yes. I am a firm believer that community based projects like this one, need happenstance, or as I like to say angels that come along and move things forward. It may be cliché, but it does take a village. So I am happy to introduce Willow Parsons…

1. Hi, Willow can you please tell us a little about yourself, your back ground, your involvement in the arts, etc? 

I was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida… very much a southern girl. My mother is a musician and music therapist, so music has always been central in my life. I graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City with my Bachelors in Voice Performance. My main focus is in classical singing; opera, lied, oratorio, and song cycles. While at UMKC I had the pleasure of doing work with Kansas City's LGBTQ community via the LIKEME Lighthouse. There, I was the space coordinator and served on the board. Having recently relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida, I intend to keep my feet wet in the performance and volunteer worlds. 

2. I can tell you are young, can you tell us when you first learned about HIV/AIDS, has it always been something you thought about?

Both of my parents lost loved ones due to HIV/AIDS. My mother's brother Paul Cary passed in 1989 and my father's best friend Nicholas Salce, in 1991. HIV is something we always talked about in our home. 

3. When, and how, did you get involved in HIV/AIDS advocacy work?  

My parents took me to my first AIDS walk when I was 2 years old, and I haven't missed once since. Some years I join a fundraising team and other years I have my own. My grandparents helped start Triad Health Project, an HIV/AIDS support and education service in Greensboro, North Carolina. It's been a cause close to my entire family's heart. 

4. How did you learn about, and get involved, in Contracting An Issue? What was your immediate response to the project/work?

I was first exposed to Contracting and Issue when it came to the LIKEME Lighthouse. The project used the space for interviews as well as one of its public performances. I was blown away, not only by the performance but the discussion that followed after with the audience, artists, and moderator. The project creates a safe and open environment where each story can be shared and truly heard. 

5. You will be the first ambassador for the Contracting An Issue project (Tampa/St Pete) what do you hope to gain? What would you like to see happen with the work? 

I hope that we can, like I saw in Kansas City, have a diversity represented in the project. There are communities with higher rates of infection, but anyone can contract HIV. The more diversity in the interviewers and people at the performances, the larger effect we will have and the more honest it will be. In this iteration we would like more involvement from and with young people. We need this conversation at both ends of the spectrum.

6. Willow, we know you are an artist/performer, so can you tell us why, and or how, you think the arts can help make a difference in peoples lives?

I'm an artist because I have always needed to express myself, as well as connect with others (real or fictional). When you portray a character on stage you need a large amount of empathy for their story and who they are as a human. If you do your job right as a performer, the audience will also feel for your character’s situation. Art can create empathy and empathy is essential for creating substantive change in the world. 

Thank you Willow, we look forward to working with you on Contracting An Issue!

For more info about CAI Tampa / St.Petersburg, FL or to contact us directly to tell your story please follow the this link: http://www.contractinganissue.com/info/tampa/st-petes/