Mark: My name is Mark Cassity. I work at Higher Ground in Greensboro. It’s part of Triad Health Project. Higher Ground, it’s a day center essentially. It’s open some weekends and some evenings for people who are HIV positive or for people who are affected by the virus. We get seekers of all stripes at the house really. It was developed first to give people of different faith communities a place to plug in to their HIV crisis. So in that way really to me the house is something different to everybody who comes to the door. People come in who are newly diagnosed and they are just scared out of their minds. People come to the house who have been living with the virus for years and years and come back to take care of maybe an elderly loved one or come back to Greensboro because it’s the place they know or they have been ostracized in their own community or they come back here, frankly, to die. They will come to the doors of Higher Ground.
One of the great things to me about a space that’s really, essentially just one of community, is that people are really accepted as they are at the door. Its not kind of programmatic like you come in and this is what happens to you and you leave nice and shiny at the end of the day. People come in exactly where they are and it maybe a different thing on any given day too. I think that’s the beauty of actual and authentic community is that it takes people exactly where they are and doesn’t say, “Come in, we are going to fix you.” When Higher Ground first started it was really just this amazing experiment to me of opening this house. It started out as a care team program for people who were really getting diagnosed and dying very quickly from the virus. It developed into this phase where people decided we need to be sitting at a table together. Which I think is really the beautiful genesis of that place. It’s like a round food of just sitting down … the door is open and we come in and everybody is hungry and we all get fed. It started out as just to see if that could be allowed to be and to keep kind of the programmatic institutional side of things out of the way.
The people who come to Higher Ground have been though all sorts of bureaucracies before they get to our door. They have usually been beaten way down and by the time they get there its beautiful to see somebody walk in and we are allowed to just say, “Welcome. This place is yours already. If you walk through the door you are part of the family.” One of the reasons that Greensboro matters, that a place like Guilford Green is there, I think is that this is where the conversation is happening now. This is one of these communities that’s really been at a crossroads in a lot of different ways for a long time. I have a friend from San Francisco and she says, it’s kind of like we’ve done this there with a different community. It’s even more complicated somehow, I think, in a place like Greensboro. In a really weird way, this is where the action is right now. This is really important right now. From my perspective which is in this little house. Every day we get together there and at table there are people from the best neighborhoods in Greensboro sitting down, to people who are living on the streets sitting down, with crack addicts sitting down. It’s black and white and gay and straight and rich and poor, old and young. We had a five month old baby in there the other day who actually came with her great, great grandmother who was part of Higher Ground who lost her daughter to the virus over ten years ago. It’s odd and sad, but again hopeful to see even changes of generations happening there and the place continually being supported. It’s hard work, but I don’t know where else I’m going to find that.