Nov. 1 marked the end of a journey. It also marked the beginning of a new, uncharted one. The date marked the publication of my first book, “Ashamed to Die, Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South” (Lawrence Hill Books), and the reaching of a dream.
Years ago, I became a newspaper journalist because I believed it was the best route to my dream deferred: being an author.
But for too long, I was one of those millions of people who vowed to turn those stories into much more and write a book. I promised and procrastinated through my 30s and 40s like everyone else; and for a long time, it seemed as if it would never happen. My flash drives are overloaded with prematurely aborted projects.
Over the years, however, I grew tired of sitting in rooms listening to authors tell their stories of how they wrote their books. Each passing year made me appreciate the difference between potential, talent and accomplishment. No amount of potential and talent will accomplish much without consistent effort. It’s a lesson I wish I had learned much sooner. It’s a lesson I desperately want to teach my students. Yes, there are shortcuts. But those are unlikely to take them where they really want to go.
The idea for my book goes back more than a decade to the time when I was a local newspaper columnist in South Carolina. There I met a woman, Tricia Ann Starr, who waged a campaign to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. Her sister Carolyn’s infection with HIV opened Starr’s eyes to the devastation in her rural neighborhood, where blacks are still buried in the all-black community cemetery, and whites are buried in a separate graveyard less than a mile away. Segregation among the living may be dead, but segregation among the dead is alive and well.
Ashamed to Die is a narrative about people – those who died of AIDS and those who valiantly tried to save them. It is also a book layered with the history of Jim Crow segregation and the South’s historically high rates of sexually transmitted diseases. No story of the South is complete without the history. And like my personal journey, that history should inform us now and always. Let a new journey begin.
Andrew J. Skerritt is the Famuan adviser. For more information visit andrewjskerritt.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter at andrewjskerritt.