Every December 1 for World AIDS Day, we pause to take stock of how far we have come and how far we need to go. But this year is different. Now there is fear and apprehension, especially in the U.S. South, where we are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS in terms of those affected and also lack the resources the rest of the country enjoys. After the results from this current election and all that came along with a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic candidate who ran the most hostile and divisive, campaign in American political history, the results of which have left people with HIV afraid.
If Obamacare is depleted what we those with HIV/AIDS do? Will we have the capacity to get the drugs we need? What about research and funding? Prevention efforts? Will the President-Elect remain devoted to his duties to protecting us? What we do know is that when the 2016 Presidential HIV/AIDS Questionnaire was sent around Secretary Clinton responded with eight pages of policy and ideas, Donald Trump did not answer questionnaire at all.
As a proud African American woman who is living with AIDS, on this World AIDS day I want to tell my story. Maybe this is the way our President elect can see the real life impact of his future actions.
I am 55 years old and thankful to be alive and I want to share with you all a little about my life. At the age of twelve, I lost the one person who meant a great deal to me: my Dad. He committed suicide and that was one of the most horrible points in my life. My oldest brother, eleven years old at the time, felt the same pain. Words cannot explain how affected we were, but that was the beginning of a life of turmoil. At fourteen, I felt as if I was alone. I had no one to comfort me as a mourning child and no one to talk to about how I was feeling. My mother was there, but the connection wasn’t. Having a stranger living in our home, who was my mother’s ex-boyfriend, didn’t help either. He was the man who would come out of the shower and listen at my door every night. He would try to embarrass me in front of my friends. But, as a child, I didn’t know anything about life. I didn’t know about the streets, because I grew up in the suburbs but I learned quickly to avoid of going back home. Years went by and I coped with the aftermath of my traumatic teenaged years. I wanted to build a family, something I could be proud of and hold on to. As I pursued relationships, I soon found a man who would give me what I thought I needed. Unfortunately, after a number of years I left my husband and tragically he and his family kept my children away from me. They tried to keep me from having any contact and thought that as a young mother, I wouldn’t fight. But I did. It was a battle, but the judge finally gave me permanent custody of my daughters.
Years later, I was raped in my own home, which devastated me for years. I soon turned to drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, and ten years later, I was date raped. After a hysterectomy my life changed drastically. I cried because of the pain and shouted out to God for an answer. I felt his words whispering to me, “You are going to be okay, you are going to be alright.” I instantly began writing poems and during this time, I started feeling ill. I went to doctors - appointments after appointment - and finally one doctor revealed what I didn’t think was possible considering I had been celibate for 10 years. The physician told me that I have symptoms like HIV. I immediately said “No I don’t. There’s no way. I am celibate and have been for TEN years.”
The following week came and my physician confirmed that I was HIV positive. I was devastated and knew a “minister” I was involved with gave it to me. I wasn’t sexually active with anyone else, but the “minister.” This was 17 years ago, and at that time, I refused medical attention and was slowly dying. In 2013, I was diagnosed with full blown AIDS, dementia and severe depression.
To all affected with HIV/AIDS out there: Keep your head high and not low. We cannot stall or lose ground, especially in the South.
To live through these experiences was a miracle. The doctors told my daughters to prepare for my funeral. But I didn’t die. I am healthy, alive and happy. I am blessed! I had the courage to write a book and I am now have a ministry. Don’t Die Stay Alive Ministries (Where hurting hearts are healed through the arts) The mission is to get these plays in churches and Conferences. The title of one of my plays is “STIGMATIZED” I also started writing screenplays and placed third in the LA International Screenwriting contest. I have written a children’s book that speaks and teach about social issues. This will be a series of books. The first one is, Don’t Burst My Bubble (Meet the Kastle Hill Gang) The Kastle Hill Gang are six multicultural teens who teaches positive social issues. I write poetry and after my illness begin to write Gospel songs. My poetry is healing poetry that I wrote before I found out that I was HIV positive and a book, three movies that I wrote that was on Netflix and I was still sad. I thought I was going to die, but today I am stronger and I write more. I am a motivational speaker. I speak in churches and conferences. The most recent blessing was being included in the POZ 100 (www.pozmagazine.com/poz100). That is such an honor and has inspired me to believe great things are in store for me. I am praying to one day start my own publishing company. My viral load is zero from half a million and CD4 went from 20 to 320. I am a survivor! And I am incredibly thankful. I would like to show people that one can live a productive life with this illness. I am living proof.
After severe depression and tons of therapy the depression faded. Also, my two oldest daughters took great care of me. My family was my support system through all of this. Since my diagnosis in 2010 I am now undetectable. I want women to understand that we fall sometimes, but we can get right back up. Living with HIV was not in my plans for myself, but from this experience, I want to inform women all over the world that we can live our lives as best as we can. Also, it is important to protect ourselves and our partners. People are afraid because of the lack of knowledge. So, to all affected with HIVAIDS out there: Keep your head high and not low. I came to a better place because of the support of my family and friends. I began to volunteer for a couple of HIV/AIDS organization. Plus, my writing was and is very therapeutic. The therapy that I received for the severe depression helped me mentally. These things helped me to come to a better place and a different way of thinking when it comes to this disease. One being that I thought I was going to die. Not true at all. Every day I take care myself and those around me. And I will wait and watch to see what comes next, but know that I will face it all with community and courage. It is all we can do in the third decade of this epidemic and we cannot stall or lose ground, especially in the South.