Authored by Stuart Murray
Alexandra Beasse is the volunteer President of the Nine Circles Community Health Centre. She has been volunteering at Nine Circles for 3 years. She is well suited for the position. When not volunteering she is the Executive Director at Oyate Tipi Cumini Yape, Winnipeg’s Furniture Bank. And she has a sense of humour. When she spelled her last name out loud ”B…e…a…s…s…e., she said the name Beasse, smiled and said it rhymes with “chaos”.
Alexandra has been personally affected by HIV and Aids. In the early 90’s she lost an uncle-in-law to Aids. He was much older and had lived in the closet his whole life as a gay man. There was a lot of secrecy and shaming in the family when he died because no one really talked about what he died of. They said he had brain cancer. Alexandra explained “to me that’s really sad that he couldn’t be…even in death be his authentic self, and I really want to be a part of that chance to destigmatize HIV and Aids through education because I want to dispel fear.”
Through both education and activism, Nine Circles is very involved in the prevention and treatment of HIV. So with her social justice belief, her sense of advocacy and her own history with HIV in her extended family, Alexandra learned that Nine Circles would be a perfect place for her to volunteer her time and energy. During her 3 years she has witnessed great strides at Nine Circles. She is impressed with how strongly Nine Circles is connected with the Indigenous culture and their “ways of being in knowledge”. She is also a big fan of the current Executive Director Mike Payne ( Listen to the conversation with Mike Payne on my podcast Humans, on Rights on Spotify or where you get your podcasts.) Alexandra believes that he has, working closely with the staff, created a very safe welcome space for the community.
She is a strong advocate for harm reduction when it comes to HIV. “Giving someone a clean needle so their next hit is less painful or linking them to help when they want to make changes in their life….even when they want to come to Nine Circles for stbbi testing (sexually transmitted blood borne infections), you are going to be greeted by a non judgemental and welcoming staff that make the experience less embarrassing….they normalize it as part of healthcare. In other words they destigmatize the experience.”
Alexandra has used her leadership experience to build relationships in the broader community and create a strong network of community partners. And with Nine Circles being located in the West Broadway neighbourhood, there are a number of community partners close by.
The conversation got a little more sober. When I asked Alexandra “what keeps you up at night?”, she didn’t hesitate. Her biggest fear is a needle stick. In other words someone pulling a dirty needle on her and jabbing her. Her organization, Oyate Tipi is constantly cleaning up dirty needles. She did have a client pull a dirty needle on her and that she said is her biggest fear. Oyate Tipi have introduced a trainer to assist in non violent conflict management and how to de escalate situations verbally.
Alexandra biggest hope is based on the fact that Nine Circles Community Health Centre is a shining light in Manitoba, not just Winnipeg. The strength and the quality of programs, the passionate staff that work or volunteer at Nine Circles, and that some of the people with lived experience work there allows Nine Circles to set a strong example in the community. And this goes a long way to decreasing the stigma associated with HIV.
Her last comment was a “HIV is a chronic condition, not a life sentence”. Alexandra strongly encourages people to regularly get tested for stbbi when they get an annual check up. Do not take any risks, even if you are in a monogamous relationship.
Finally she said, “We are all humans on the same journey. We are all part of the same community. Let’s look at each other, not as enemies, but as neighbours.”