Status awareness only way to fight HIV/AIDS

The fact is, the true face of HIV is not Ervin “Magic” Johnson. It’s my face. I can’t afford my medicine; I can’t pay for my hospital visits and everything that keeps me alive.

I depend on organizations like the Federal AIDS Drug Assistance Program, Medicare and all sorts of other government programs just to stay alive.

In the black community, especially on a lot of campuses at historically black colleges and universities, people still believe that Johnson is not HIV-positive, but he is. He is doing his part to stay alive.

So am I.

There is no cure yet for AIDS. I know it will come one day, but until then, having the HIV virus is hell on earth: the crying, getting so sick I can’t move, the violent vomiting, the pills I have to take.

The fact that my HIV is affecting my mom, my brother, my sister, my friends, my community and my little 8-year-old niece, who has to see her uncle slipping away, is almost unbearable at times.

HIV is a hard disease to manage and a hard one to see someone die of.

Four of my HIV-positive friends passed away last year, one from a simple eye infection.

He slipped into a coma and two days later, he died. You start thinking about yourself when you are in a similar position, but life doesn’t stop.

I tell myself that HIV can share my body, but it can’t share my mind, my spirit, my hopes, my goals, my dream and my love.

The rate of HIV diagnoses has been dropping among blacks over the past four years, but it remains alarmingly high, more than eight times the rate among whites, according to a U.S. government report.

I believe that the number of HIV/AIDS cases on historically black campuses is much higher than generally thought, that some school officials may worry that reporting the actual number of people who are HIV-positive might lead to a drop in enrollment.

Some officials will not even admit that HIV exists on their campuses unless people come forward, people like Jonathan Perry, a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., who “came out” at his school, or others like myself, a student at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., who came out to show the face of HIV.

I have chosen to stand on the shoulders of black men and women who built this country: former slaves such as Nat Turner; heroes such as Booker T. Washington and Linda Brown, the little girl who became famous for fighting the Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., and whose Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, helped all black children get a better education.

I stand with Ruby Bridges, who in 1960 became the first black student to desegregate an elementary school. She had to be very brave to stand up to all the people who didn’t want her there.

I admire Homer Plessey, who was arrested for being in the wrong part of the train. He fought against discrimination on trains in the famous Supreme Court case, Plessey v. Ferguson.

There were others such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, and soldiers like Hydeia Broadbent, who was born with the virus but who has been a champion since in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Their hopes and dreams will have been in vain if we don’t put a hold on HIV/AIDS in our communities.

Until more people get tested and know their personal health status, the rates will continue to rise.

If no one tells you that your life is important, I am here to say it is. Without knowing you personally, I can say I love you and honestly care about your future. Think about it: Would anyone tell you he or she is HIV positive, only to be discriminated against and picked on at school? I didn’t ask for HIV to come into my life, but the sad part is I didn’t ask for it not to come into my life, either.

If it were true that you get HIV only through male-to-male sex, then I wouldn’t be HIV-positive. The woman who gave me the virus in 1995 died before I found out I had it. I found out in 1997. HIV can stay in your system for 10 to 20 years without being detected.

Last year, I went from 137 pounds to 62 pounds. I almost died. I had a mild stroke, went blind in my right eye and had feeding tubes inside me. I couldn’t walk. I was given intravenous tubes.

What I have that really matters is a college whose students, faculty and staff continue to pray for me. I have the prayers of my family, my church and positive people who circle around me and pray for my healing. I also have a praying mother. Never underestimate the prayers of a mother.

She told me that whether I live or die, everything will be all right. When I heard those words, I got it together. I buried the old me and celebrated the new one.

I will graduate from Benedict in May 2007, good Lord willing.

HIV does not define me. We make choices every day on whether to go to class, what to wear and what to eat. How about making the choice to live and to be “Young, Black and Positive?” I have.

Tawain Kelly, a student at Benedict College, writes for the Tiger News.