Memphis Advocate LáDeia Joyce Uses Her Corporate Marketing Skills to Change the Lives of Black Women Living with and at Risk of HIV
by Chip Alfred
Charming and charismatic, LáDeia Joyce is also a woman who refuses to be ignored. She is incredibly ambitious and driven, dedicated to her work and passionate about educating and advocating for Black women living with HIV. A self-described “doer and disruptor,” Joyce says, “I’m disrupting the myths, the stereotypes and the stigma that people associate with Black women who have been diagnosed.” Just how is she doing that? “I’m disrupting all that by doing, by showing up, by sharing my story, by being transparent.” A&U takes a closer look at the journey of a Fortune 500 marketing consultant/entrepreneur who has added to her résumé HIV advocate and influencer, national TV spokesperson, public speaker, and nonprofit innovator. You can rest assured that this woman of many talents isn’t nearly done expanding her CV and reinventing herself.
Born and raised in Memphis, Joyce, forty-one, has strong family ties and a deep connection to her faith. Tims were tough in the ’80s in Memphis. At one point, both her parents lost their jobs, but LáDeia figured out how to earn her own money from an early age. “In high school and junior high, I was the kid selling candy out of her locker between classes,” she tells A&U. “I knew then I was always going to either have some type of business or additional stream of income.” After graduating from the University of Memphis on a full-ride scholarship, Joyce relocated to Atlanta and later to Brooklyn, where she forged a successful career in experiential and event marketing, working for major brands, including FedEX and Verizon and earned her MBA along the way.
In 2015, after her dad was involved in a nearly fatal accident, Joyce made the decision to move back home to help her parents out. Then the following year, things took a dramatic turn in Joyce’s life. She was driving her mom out to dinner after spending the day together. It was just before rush hour on one of the busiest streets in Memphis and her phone rang. The call was from a nurse practitioner she had seen the week before. She immediately popped in her earbuds. The NP said to her, “Your test results have come back. You are indeed HIV-positive.” The last thing she said was, “You can come pick up your test results tomorrow from the front desk.” Joyce knew that was not how that phone call was supposed to go. “Everything else was a blur for the rest of the day. I just had to keep myself composed. I had my mother with me and that’s not how I wanted her to find out.”
Once Joyce got home, her first thought was, “Who marries somebody who’s HIV-positive?”
But she wasn’t afraid she was going to die. “I told myself, ‘This can’t be what takes me out. Every time you wake up and you have breath, and blood flowing through your body, that means you still have purpose to fulfill. God, I can’t go out like this.” Finding an HIV specialist and the right therapist were her first two priorities. “My therapist was the first one to tell me that being diagnosed with HIV was a traumatic experience and it needed to be addressed as trauma,” she says. “That gave me a different perspective as far as creating boundaries, coping mechanisms, and taking a look at my life in its totality.” Looking back, Joyce had to relive thirteen years of trauma she endured as a child. “I was molested by an older cousin from the time I was three until I was sixteen. I didn’t say anything to my parents about it until I turned twenty-three. I look at pictures of myself then and I don’t even recognize that girl. I dimmed my light. I didn’t want anyone to notice me.” Once she found the strength to open up about the abuse publicly, she says that moxie helped her become the outspoken HIV advocate she is today. “I didn’t like what that silence did to me. I damn sure wasn’t going to allow this diagnosis and even the shame and stigma that surrounds it to take my voice again.”
As Joyce delved into HIV advocacy work while maintaining her corporate career, she often had to keep the two worlds apart. “I compartmentalized my job because that was work, and because I was working for a Fortune 500 company at the time. Stigma, stereotypes, myths, all that is still very much alive and well, especially in the South. I didn’t need any lines to be crossed. I enjoy my job and my salary. But I do understand the necessity for me to be present, showing up how I do as someone who was diagnosed with HIV in the HIV sector, especially in Memphis.” Joyce has been able, however, to take advantage of some of these corporate connections to initiate conversations that otherwise might never happen. “I make it a point to sometimes insert myself in spaces that would not necessarily think about talking about HIV. I’m strategic in partnerships and talking to different companies to understand that, ‘Hey, your consumer base is this number of Black women. This is why you need to be concerned about HIV because it’s impacting your largest audience.’”
“When I started to peel back the layers in Memphis,” Joyce says, “I realized that in Memphis, 93% of all women who are diagnosed with HIV are Black women. If these were white women with the flu, it would be a whole movement. There would be campaigns and messaging to get the word out that white women, you’re getting the flu. Thirteen out of fourteen women who are diagnosed with the flu in Memphis are white women, we’ve got to do something!” Joyce started organizing advocacy events on her own, partnering with organizations like MAC Cosmetics, and Memphis-based nonprofits including Choice and SisterReach. But the funding for most of these events was coming out of Joyce’s pocket. “It was important for me to do that because no one in Memphis was making the noise that was necessary to inform Black women about their vulnerability to HIV,” she says. So, she came up with her next big idea.
In 2017, the independent film 90 Days was touring the country. The film, which features the story of a Black woman’s disclosure of her HIV status to her would-be fiancé and how it impacts their lives, was planning to skip Memphis. Joyce rolled up her sleeves, found a venue, a caterer, and a DJ, and turned a screening into a festive party, culminating with a panel discussion. The first question the moderator asked the panel was how they related to any of the characters in the movie. Joyce responded, “I relate to the character in the movie because I too am a Black woman, a Black professional woman who has been diagnosed with HIV.” Once she said it, she started to cry. “That was the first time I had said it out loud in public in front of people.” That event, now known as Joyce’s “Moment of Transparency,” sparked a frenzy of activity. “My inbox and my phone were flooded all weekend with support,” Joyce recalls. “A lot of people, not just women, in the metro Memphis area identified with me.” She realized there were many stories like hers not being told, and she was determined to give those stories a platform.
Joyce continued to do more speaking engagements and advocacy events in Memphis, and then she received a call about something on a much larger scale. She was approached about her participation in a Patient Ambassador program. In 2019, she was selected to join a small group of individuals living with HIV to be featured as spokespersons for the HIV medication Dovato in national TV commercials and online advertising. For Joyce, this nationwide exposure meant validation that her voice was being heard. “It validated me being as assertive, and as in your face as I had been in the city of Memphis. You could almost take the same issue and replicate it in different cities because that’s how Black women were being ignored or not being raised up when it came to them knowing their vulnerability for contracting HIV.”
To continue to do her advocacy work and reach a wider audience, Joyce knew she needed her own nonprofit, which ultimately came together as The Positive Experience. “We understand that being diagnosed is an experience and not just a moment in one’s life, and we want to ensure that the experience is a uniquely positive one,” she explains. The Positive Experience (TPE) builds community partnerships and coalitions that create marketing campaigns, events, and conferences that focus on HIV education, awareness, and prevention. The organization’s goals are to reduce stigma, increase knowledge and support, and to normalize HIV through narrative. Beyond its counseling and support group initiatives, TPE has developed a series of innovative programs designed to celebrate and empower Black women living with HIV, including “It’s Your Seroversary,” “Positive and Still Pretty,” and “Hot Sex Tool Kit.”
As for LáDeia Joyce’s legacy, she wants to go down in history as “a girl from South Memphis who grew up and made an impact, who shifted narratives even outside the realm of HIV, who showed people from all walks of life how to show up and show out in this world. I would like to be remembered as a woman who emboldened other people, particularly Black women who live with HIV to do the same; and that we chose to be victors rather than victims, and we chose to live our lives through a lens of transformation and triumph.”
For more information about LáDeia Joyce and The Positive Experience, visit: https://positivelydeia.com, follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ladeiajoyce/ or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/positivelyDeia.
Chip Alfred is A&U’s Editor at Large, a public speaker, and a media and public relations consultant based in Philadelphia. Follow Chip on Twitter @ChipAlfred.