EBONY is joining forces with Greater Than AIDS – a nation-wide campaign that stresses unity, hope, and personal empowerment to inspire people to do their part to stem the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic – to feature real stories from real people in a month-long series called “I Got Tested: Speaking Our Truth about HIV.”
Visit EBONY.com every Wednesday in the month of June in the lead up to June 27th, National HIV Testing Day, to read a personal story about getting tested for HIV, seeking and staying on treatment, finding the courage to confront HIV/AIDS stigma, and how we all can do our part to be “greater than AIDS.”
Yvonne, 26, is one of the faces of the Greater Than AIDS campaign. She is HIV-negative and hopes to empower others by talking openly about the importance of HIV education and testing.
The fall of 2003 was the first time I got tested for HIV. I had just moved into my college dorm with my purple shower caddy, matching towels and fresh notebooks. OutKast's "Hey Ya!" was continuously playing on the radio. Not only was I reading textbooks with an enthusiasm that only exists in the beginning of a new school year, I was making an effort to go to almost every event held and use every resource offered on campus.
After an announcement from my hall's resident assistant, I decided to go to the HIV/AIDS testing event being held by a local nonprofit.
I remember talking to my friends over lunch about my plans. A couple of them were just going to stay in their rooms. A few others had another event, but were thinking of stopping by. I looked around the table. "Why wouldn't you just get tested?" I asked, "It's free and the flyer says it only takes minutes."
We were children of the 90s: anti-drug and HIV awareness campaigns were everywhere. “Just say No!” “Wrap it up!” and “Get Tested!” were on posters, buttons, in health class, public service announcements, and bookmarks and pencils in goody bags. I didn't understand why anyone wouldn't get tested.
My roommate and I went to the nurse's office together. The actual testing was quite unmemorable because it was so easy. We had the choice of having our finger pricked or another method that scraped the inside of our mouths. I had expected it to be more complicated, and as cheesy as it may sound, while waiting in line, I felt like I was doing something important and really mature.
I kept thinking of all the messaging on safe sex and STD statistics and how getting tested was a natural extension of taking care of your health; like a part of your physical. I hadn't engaged in risky sexual behavior and hadn't even been sexually active for very long, but I knew it was the right thing to do. My finger was pricked. They had my blood sample. I'd be receiving my test results later on.
Then it hit me. Sure, I've been safe, but what if? What if my results come back positive? How would I have contracted it? What would my current boyfriend and I do? How would that affect my health? My life?
That's when I understood that sometimes "free" and "only a few minutes" isn't enough for some people to get tested. Some of us are more afraid of the possibility of bad news that we'd rather not know at all. But knowledge truly is power.
In fact, lack of knowledge is the reason I decided to incorporate HIV/AIDS awareness into my programming as a resident assistant in college. So many of us are still uninformed about how HIV is contracted, how it affects African-American women disproportionately, and how easy and simple it is to get tested. We can't control what other people do, but we can control our own actions. Talking with your friends, your partner, and your family members about HIV–spreading knowledge–is a simple thing that can make a huge impact.
Since 2003, I've been getting tested once a year, during my annual women's health exam, and even though I've been with my fiancé for years and we'll be getting married–I'll still continue to get tested. Today the process is routine and the question of "What if?" is less daunting. I still feel like what I'm doing is important. I'm open about knowing my status and getting tested as part of my overall health and that helps others feel more comfortable about doing the same. If we're all making choices every day to be safe and be healthy, it puts us in a better position to end this epidemic exactly the way it started–one person at a time.
HIV began one person at a time and it will end one person at a time. Join the Greater Than AIDS movement on Facebook <http://www.facebook.com/greaterthanaids> . For more information about HIV/AIDS, including to find an HIV testing center near you, visit greaterthan.org <http://www.greaterthan.org/>