Ivana Hall didn’t have to look far to find the platform issue she’d carry with her during her year as Miss Texas 2013; her platform found her when she was only 10 years old
Barry Houston Phillips | Contributing Writer
As a child, Ivana Hall knew the ravages of AIDS as she watched her uncle die of the disease. And at the age of 17, she fully committed her life to a grassroots effort to make a difference in this fight. After advancing to the top 10 semifinals at Miss America, she returned to Texas to contribute to the on-going battle against AIDS.
Dallas Voice: Ivana Hall, Miss Texas 2013. So, which are you?
Ivana Hall: Well, for the year, I am Miss Texas, for sure. Ivana comes second. I knew what I was signing up for, and this is, without a doubt, a year of service. I think a lot of people who watch Miss America, who just see those two hours, think it is just so glamorous and it really isn’t. It’s me giving my time. My schedule isn’t my own, and I am really there to put a smile on people’s faces and be of service to the community. That’s what it’s all about.
How many opportunities do you have in the course of a month to speak about your platform? I really do have more opportunities to speak more than people think I do. Not necessarily so much in schools or large groups of people, but I still do have a lot of individuals approach me, and we do get to have one-on-one conversations, which I think is important. And now that I am back from Miss America, I can be more active with my platform and volunteering with DIFFA, Design Industry Foundations Fighting AIDS. I did an event for them last week, which is their annual wreath collection kicking off the Christmas season, and I designed a wreath for them to auction off for them to raise money for local AIDS organizations.
Did you buy your own wreath? No! I didn’t buy my own wreath. Ha, that’s funny.
Let’s move into your platform that titleholders carry as a social issue concern throughout their year. My platform is HIV/ AIDS: Education and Resources.
When did you first become aware of the epidemic of AIDS, and is it even still appropriate to call it an epidemic? Yes, it is still an epidemic. I became aware of it at a very young age. My mother’s brother, Lenny Dalrymple, had AIDS for 22 years. Growing up, I always knew what he had, and I always knew the trials and tribulations he was going through. He was in and out of hospitals a lot, and he didn’t have health insurance, so access to medication and treatment was very hard for him. There were times when he lived with us, and I always knew what HIV/AIDS was. My parents would always answer questions that I had about it and gave age-appropriate answers, which is so important. I was lucky to have parents that would take the time to answer questions and would never just brush something off. I remember when I was 10 years old, and I approached my mom and said, “Why is Uncle Lenny in the hospital so much?” She said, “Well, he has AIDS.” She didn’t go any further because I already knew what that was. And that, I think, was the first conscience moment I knew that my uncle was sick, and I was very concerned.
Do you remember the first conversation you ever had with your uncle about his condition? I don’t think we ever had an actual conversation about it. That was his life, and I was experiencing what he was experiencing as well every day. Because we were so close, we didn’t have to discuss it, because it was so common to us both. There was one point when he talked about when he was kicked out of his apartment when his landlord found out he was sick and my uncle was asked to leave. That was pretty much the only conversation we had about it, and it was mainly about the ignorance of it all and people not being educated about it.
Do you draw on that particular indignation for power to keep on going at the end of a day when you are tired and you just want to stop? Does that memory of his predicament give you the energy to go the extra mile? Oh yes, for sure. It has been one of the great things that has helped me along my journey and also becoming Miss Texas.
The CDC estimates that about 50,000 people in the U.S. are infected with HIV every year. That is approximately how many American soldiers died in the entirety of the Viet Nam war.With these numbers, do you think we are winning the war on HIV/AIDS here at home? No, I do not think we are winning the war here at home, unfortunately. I think the international community is doing a really good job of fighting it in Africa and Europe. But here at home, it’s just being brushed aside it seems because Americans are so concerned with so many other illnesses like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and they, too, are important as is HIV/AIDS.
Have you had a chance to talk with the President George and Laura Bush concerning their own personal work with AIDS relief in Africa? No, I have not. But, I am so proud that President Bush started the PEPFAR bill when he was in office, which is the President’s Executive Plan for AIDS Relief globally. I am also so happy that the proceeds from his Presidential Library go to AIDS research and resources.
In terms of “contemporary” issues typical of the platforms of the women of the Miss America Scholarship Organization, how did you keep your AIDS platform topical and current considering this pandemic has been around now for some 32 years? That’s a great question. People think it doesn’t really exist anymore and is no longer a big problem, but it is. New stats have come out that people of a younger demographic are contracting AIDS at a greater rate. The previous demographic of the youngest people contracting AIDS was 18–24. Now it has been lowered to the 13–17 age range. So, it is still a very relevant issue. When we see younger people contracting AIDS more, we have to say, “What are we doing? Are we educating our children enough? Are we having those needed discussions?” So, I think it steers into social issues that are going on. In single parent homes for example, one parent cannot give their children the attention they need because they are probably working two jobs.
So what I hear you saying is that you feel that Americans are becoming complacent about AIDS and just accepting it as a part of life in the 21st century? Very much so. We are just not taking the time to have those discussions anymore. About 20 years ago, people were open to having these discussions, but over that span of time, it has become a stigma in our community to talk about it. And even to talk about sex education, as well. I have a problem with the fact that Texas schools no longer have sex education classes in schools like they did in the past.
From your point of view, is abstinence in the realm of reality anymore? I think it can be, but when we live in a society where there is so much sexual activity on television, the Internet and when there are so many avenues and ways of our children finding things out, you don’t want your children getting that information from someone else. As a parent or an educator, you need to educate children so that they are hearing it from a reliable source instead of getting that information from someone that is not reliable.
So from that statement I would assume that you feel that the preponderance of AIDS funding should be pushed toward education and prevention. For sure. Because there isn’t a known cure, education is prevention. It’s most important for people just to know how to protect themselves.
I am always amazed at the platforms of the women of the Miss America system and the issues that these young women tackle. Realistically, can “one voice” make a difference in something this big and overwhelming of a challenge? That’s really a great question. I’m a very optimistic person, and that’s another reason I want to work in government as well because I have something else to bring to the table and personally can contribute to various causes. It all starts with one person and I meet so many people who say that they don’t have the courage to make a difference, but someone has to.
You were the DIFFA/ Dallas Outreach Volunteer of the Year Award recipient this year. Give me some characteristics that are vital for a volunteer to possess to be effective in the war against HIV/AIDS. I had no idea of how many hours I had actually put in as a volunteer. It was just me jumping in when I could. When it comes to being a volunteer, you must put in the time, talk to people, do the fundraisers. Local community outreach is very important. So when we are working in the community, we must let people know that we are here for those people that are living with this disease. A volunteer’s grass roots effort is the most effective.
How old were you when you started actually going out and volunteering? I was 17, and it was one month after my uncle passed away, and I really needed closure for myself. He moved to California the last two years of his life and, I think it was because he didn’t want to be a burden on my family anymore. I really wanted to go out there when he passed away, but my grandparents who were already there said we probably couldn’t emotionally handle what they were seeing. So in order to get closure, I volunteered at AIDS Arms and their Lifewalk.
Have you gotten closure? Do you ever get total closure? No, not necessarily. I do think that is why I give my time in hopes of being there for someone who is dealing with this disease. Now, having the maturity that I do it helps me to give emotionally as well.
What doors are now open to you as Miss Texas that were not available to you before as a 17-year-old volunteer? DIFFA wants to use me in ways I couldn’t imagine. Even as a local titleholder, I asked to be a volunteer with DIFFA. If it were not for the Miss Texas Organization, I would not have been able to make this connection with the great people of DIFFA and work with this tremendous organization in the way that I have. I know I will be a lifetime volunteer for DIFFA.
Among African-Americans, the HIV infection rate is eight times as high as the infection rate for whites. Being African-American, does this somehow create an extra burden of personal responsibility to your cause? I wouldn’t say it’s a burden. It’s a privilege and gives me an opportunity, especially since I am only the second black Miss Texas ever. I can have an effect that perhaps a Caucasian Miss Texas would not have. I can go out in a community and have a conversation and be real. I am not reluctant at all to talk about how HIV/AIDS is affecting the African-American community and what we have to do as a community to put a halt to it. But it also involves other issues of our community, such as the acceptance of homosexuals. That’s still a big deal in the African-American community. They are still not as accepting of it as other communities have been. Black men in particular. That is another conversation I am going to have for sure. The majority of African-Americans really want to see our children grow and be successful. However, this homophobic attitude hurts the black community economically, and it prevents us from climbing socially in this country as well.
Since you first started working with the HIV/AIDS cause, is it possible to articulate the changes it has made in you? Oh, there has been so much change in me. I’m not the same girl as I was starting out as a 17-year-old. I have always been a very opinionated person, even for my age, but I stand firmer on my beliefs now. I don’t question myself any more. My maturity level I think is much higher than a regular 23-year-old. To be able to give myself emotionally to others is another thing. I having always thought it’s important to be a compassionate person, and no matter where I go in life, I have to keep that intact. I think that is my most important attribute.
The Lone Star Film Festival recently screened a new documentary “Before You Know It,” an expose of elderly gay men who are dealing with the loneliness of living and dying alone, many having partners who had died of AIDS years before. How does your platform address this aspect of the needs of the aging gay population? I really haven’t thought about that so much because HIV/AIDS can affect anyone, any demographic. It’s important to talk to all communities and not hone in on one community in particular. I really want the public to understand that it can happen to anyone, young or old. However, I think this is a good conversation to have with the elderly community. They are a group where the infection rate is rising, they are now in the double digits. As people get older, and they are losing their partners, even heterosexual couples, they are still participating in sexual activity due to erectile dysfunction medication, which makes it possible to extend the longevity of one’s sex life. I have even considered going into nursing homes and doing a flat-out sex education class. They need to have a refresher course again.
The original issue of HIV/AIDS has now somewhat expanded to encompass other related social issues, such as bullying, gay marriage, adoption by same-sex couples and human rights. Are you starting to embrace these issues within your platform as well? I personally embrace all of these other issues because that’s personally what I stand for. I support the gay community. I support humanitarian efforts because that’s who I am personally. However, when it comes down to my platform, as I have said before, I don’t like to hone in on specific groups. I just want to concentrate on the people who have this disease and how we can ensure that they are able to live long, productive lives.
With World AIDS Day coming up Dec. 1, as it has now every year since 1988, what involvement will you have personally with this occasion? I just said last week to my business manager that I would like to do some kind of media blitz where I go from TV shows to radio stations where I can really talk about my platform and what World AIDS Day is about. Since Dec. 1 is on a Sunday this year, I will have to do some things on Monday, but just to get the word out about HIV/AIDS resources and what is available to people of the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
This year, the theme of World AIDS Day is “Getting to Zero” meaning zero transmissions, zero discrimination, zero deaths. How realistic do you think that it is for this to happen in the next 10 years or even in your lifetime? It can happen in my lifetime for sure, but I think we still have to continue and not brush it off. The international community is doing a great job. Within the last 10 years, AIDS has decreased by 19 percent worldwide. But, like I said before, here at home, it is a big problem still.
So what can we learn here at home from the effectiveness of the international efforts? The international community has addressed it head on. It’s a big discussion in the international community. It’s not a big discussion here at home. Just making people socially aware which, in turn, goes back to education, which is prevention. That’s the first step. Many of my peers still don’t know how you contract HIV. Unbelieveable.
Hopefully, one day we will indeed see a complete end of the epidemic of AIDS and live again in an HIV/ AIDS free world. When this happens, where will Ivana Hall and her platform find new purpose? Well, I will say that I am a feminist, and I know, there is a negative connotation to that word, and there really shouldn’t be. So I will definitely continue to push for women’s rights and women being treated equally with their male counterparts. That’s probably where I will put my energy.
Barry Houston Phillips is a two-time Emmy-winning designer and art director for his work on PBS television. He judged the 2013 Miss Texas Scholarship Pageant and was head judge for the 2005 Miss America Pageant