To commemorate National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day we reached out to those diagnosed with the disease and asked them one question: What has living with HIV/AIDS taught you?
Here are their amazing and heartfelt responses. —Kellee Terrell
Diagnosed: 1981 New York, N.Y.
To embrace the disease and no longer fear it. HIV stigma ends when I'm proud to be HIV-positive. Finally after living with this chronic illness now for 32 years, I'm proud to be and say, "I’m a Black HIV-positive man!"
Name: Guy Anthony
Diagnosed: 2007 Washington, D.C.
To be selfless in the fight to eradicate stigma. I could be silent, but what good would that do? I hope that my transparency allows for others to see someone who has experienced the same shame, hurt and pain that comes along with having this disease, so they know that they are not alone.
Justin B Terry
Diagnosed: 2006, Washington D.C.
How to be a strong Black man by helping others that can't help themselves or who feel alone. Being open about my status has given me internal strength to reach out to my community by speaking publicly and with my blog “Justin's HIV Journal.”
Diagnosed: 1999 Dallas, Texas
After accepting my diagnosis, HIV taught me how to live out loud in spite of adversity. HIV is a small facet of my life and doesn't have to dictate my life's outcome or devalue my existence!
Sophie Mubvumbi Jayawardene
Diagnosed: 1989 New Zealand
That if you are not seen, spoken to or heard, you are a prisoner. Death is the scariest thing if it is the only thing you think about!
Diagnosed: 2011 Fredericksburg, Va.
Being HIV-positive is continuing to teach me that resilience, patience, and affirmations can get you through difficult life changing events. Living with HIV has also enlightened me of the need for the Black community to be more engaged and active in the fight to end this epidemic.
Diagnosed: 2002 Baton Rouge, La.
To love myself, which was the hardest lesson to learn after my diagnosis because I felt so much shame. In time, I became empowered to live openly with HIV, so others can know that for me HIV was only the beginning of living life. This lesson was well learned because today I’m FREE to live!
Diagnosed: 2000 New York, N.Y.
To advocate for my life more than ever before! Since being diagnosed, I have endured a lot of stigma, which has taught me to stand up and fight for myself and people like me. I do this through my work as an HIV educator and an activist. I believe that I live with HIV so that many of you won’t have to.
Diagnosed: 1988 Atlanta, GA.
That positive people can be loved and have wonderful sex lives with negative people. Through God's grace, after over 25 years of marriage and protected sex, my wife Dionne remains HIV negative and I remain healthy and alive!
Diagnosed 1991 New York, N.Y.
To appreciate what life has to offer and regret nothing. If I died tomorrow all of this would have been worth the fight because today I live out loud for the whole world to see. I have lived with AIDS for the past 20 years and just staying alive was my day-to-day battle. But in that, I married my best friend who is HIV-negative and we made a beautiful baby from LOVE!
Diagnosed: 1998, Washington D.C.
The virtue of forgiveness, especially when forgiving myself. At the time I was diagnosed, I was in the middle of the application process for medical school and was on the MD-PhD track. I was quite depressed for years. It took the better part of 8 - 10 years to move from shame to acceptance, but when I did it was like I had never missed a beat.
Diagnosed: 2001, Atlanta, Ga.
That I will never be alone. Yes, there are those who will slander and stigmatize us, discriminate and criminalize us, BUT there are also so many people who are either affected by or infected with HIV who are waiting with opened arms to provide me with compassion and love.
Diagnosed: 2005 South Carolina
SELF-DIGNITY and SELF LOVE. When I was first diagnosed, I was pregnant and serving in the U.S. Army. I didn’t know what to do, so I started hating myself and became worried about what others would say. I’ve seen a lot of African-Americans with HIV hide and give up. Thankfully, I learned to love myself for who I am. Then nothing else really mattered!
Diagnosed: 2005, Atlanta, GA
Being diagnosed at the age of 17 with a "chronic illness" is never easy. Yet, being an HIV-positive Black gay man, HIV has taught me the importance of self-care. Nobody else matters when it comes to my health. And part of that is teaching myself about the disease and my medication. In the end, I see that I am no different than anyone else with another illness.
Khafre Kujichagulia Abif
Diagnosed 1999 Atlanta, GA
That I am walking in my God's purpose for my life. As an openly bisexual HIV positive activist, blogger, author and father, my visibility has become a blessing for those who have yet to find their voice. My personal sacrifice is far outweighed by the work as people reach out to me support their journey or the life of a friend or loved one.
Diagnosed: 2000 Baton Rouge, La.
“Now, I have no issues letting a man know you gotta’ strap it up or we can use a female condom. I never did that when I was negative, which is what put me at risk for HIV in the first place. I try to relay these messages to negative women in hopes to help empower them to take more control of their sex lives.”
Diagnosed: 1989/1990 Oakland, CA
When I die it won’t be because of HIV. I have learned that being in care and taking my meds is keeping me alive and well. I have come to learn and believe that I shall live with HIV and not die from it. It’s been almost 25 years, and I haven’t died yet!
Lynn T. Kidd, M.Ed.
Diagnosed: 1996 Columbus, Ohio
To accept myself, but also recognize that HIV is not ALL of who I am. Over time, it’s been easier to deal with my diagnosis, love myself more, live somewhat of a normal and healthy life and not allow others to dictate who I should be.
Millicent Y. Foster
Diagnosed: 2002, Baton Rouge, LA.
To be more accepting and cautious of my health. I’ve learned the importance of education and the importance of using condoms to keep myself protected from [other STDs]. Also, it has also taught me that my diagnosis does not define who or what I am. I choose to live positively everyday!
Diagnosed: 1986 Brooklyn, NY
Black. Heterosexual. HIV. Words I didn’t hear together in the 1980s --until I was diagnosed HIV positive in 1986 while I was a student athlete at Norfolk State University. Through my 28 years of living with HIV the most enduring lesson is that life is a gift that should be lived out loud.