“It’s not the normal career path for a pop star,” laughs Jamar Rogers.
The 30-year-old singer/songwriter was referring to his remarkable run on the second season of The Voice, the hit reality talent show on NBC. Rogers did not win the competition but ultimately emerged as one of the series’ most compelling storylines. Viewers fell in love with Rogers’ raspy baritone … and his incredible personal story, when the singer disclosed to the weekly television audience of 14 million viewers that he was HIV-positive.
Rogers learned of his HIV-positive status about seven years ago in Atlanta. “I had been using crystal methamphetamine for about five years,” he told EBONY.com. “I would snort it, smoke it, shoot it intravenously, I shared needles. I was hard core.”
The New Orleans native has previously shared his tale of addiction and recovery—but now he is offering more details as he tours the country performing and lending his “voice” and face to Let's Stop HIV Together, a social awareness campaign launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rogers and his mother are featured in one campaign.
“I had sex for money and for drugs,” Rogers told EBONY.com. “I slept with men and women. I was just trying to get as high as possible as often as possible. That’s what happened.”
The number of new HIV cases in the United States has remained fairly stable at about 50,000 per year, according to the CDC. The epidemic continues to affect Blacks disproportionately, as reported last week on EBONY.com. Forty-four percent of all new infections occurred among African-Americans and other Black communities, who represent only about 12 percent of the population.
Jamar Rogers was one of many so-called "late testers"—who are diagnosed after they've been HIV positive for months or years. Late diagnoses can often be fatal. “I learned that I was positive about two or three months after I stopped using meth,” Rogers added. “I was very sick and was rushed to the hospital emergency room. My viral load was in the millions. I had AIDS and was near death.”
New HIV infections are rising the fastest among Black women, Black straight men and Black gay and bisexual men in the South, according to recent surveillance data.
Many Black Americans learn their status in emergency rooms. Rogers said that he had visited the same emergency room “at least eight or nine times” in the previous two or three months before he learned that he was positive. “Not one doctor or nurse in the emergency room asked me if I had an HIV test,” said the singer. “That’s why testing is important. Know your status.”
Jamar Rogers’ narrative is more common than many people—especially in the Black community—would believe. Crystal meth was once stereotyped as being a favorite on the largely white gay “circuit party” scene. But its abuse “has increased” among Black gay and bisexual men, according to a 2008 study in Addict Behavior . New York University researcher Dr. Perry N. Halkitis reported similar findings in 2009. Crystal meth use often encourages unsafe sex.
Young Black gay and bisexual men ages 13 to 29 have experienced the greatest increases with infection rates skyrocketing by more than 48 percent. Researchers have described the increase as “alarming.”
“We have to address this as a community [because] there is homophobia in the Black community,” Rogers told EBONY.com. “As a community, we need to talk about this openly and honestly. Speak up if you want your brothers and sisters to live.”
“Jamar Rogers is a role model—especially to younger Black men,” said Venton Jones, senior program associate for communications at the National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition. “He has fame, success and is living his dream as an artist—and a positive diagnosis. HIV is not a death sentence. If people adhere to their medications and are on treatment, they can lead happy, healthy and successful lives.”
And very busy lives. Rogers’ calendar is booked. “I have two EPs coming out this year. The first EP will be out the last week of March,” he said. “I will be releasing two music videos, I’m writing a book and about to start filming a reality show. Life is crazy, exciting and wonderful. I am having a great time. Not bad for an ex-dog walker.”
Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News, NBC and FOX, and his writing has appeared in EBONY, The Los Angeles Times, The Advocate, OUT.com, and many others. Read his award winning site Rod 2.0. Follow him on Twitter: @RodMcCullom