Full disclosure. I am HIV-negative.
Thankfully, I can say that I do not have to take several pills a day to survive. I am not among the roughly 37 million people living with HIV and my immune system isn’t compromised by a horrific parasite-like illness. I do not have to be concerned with a virus as simple as the flu or common cold taking me out, or being discriminated against for being sick. And for these reasons, I can wholeheartedly admit that I do not care about HIV as much as I should.
At least I didn’t until now.
This isn’t something that I am proud of. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of my position until arriving at the 20th Annual United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) — thanks to the Black AIDS Institute — last week.
If you asked me before attending the conference, I’d say I gave a whole lot of damns about HIV/AIDS. As a Black woman who grew up in a low-income community absent of proper healthcare, how could I not? I would certainly get offended at such a question and I would rush to tell you about all of the articles on the subject that housed my byline. I’d proudly point you in the direction of works where I’ve contributed to the narratives of those impacted by HIV, because they, too, deserve to be heard.
But still, after it was all said and done and my job was completed, I went on with life and didn’t think about HIV until another headline came up.
As human beings, we tend to pay attention primarily to what affects us the most. It is an instinct of survival, but one that can be drastically damaging if left unchecked. Thinking about any disease can be depressing, but not thinking about it can literally cost a life; maybe even your life.
HIV isn’t just a disease that individuals who practice certain behaviors suffer from. You can be a straight, monogamous man and still contract HIV. You can be an innocent little child and still get HIV. You can be young, old, promiscuous or virginal and still be affected by HIV. It is a disease that does not discriminate.
But for some reason we consciously — and sometimes subconsciously — discriminate against HIV and those who are affected by it.
Every year, I host a breast cancer walk. I rush to participate in other breast cancer walks that have more of a national reach, and the reason why is simple.
My mother is a breast cancer survivor. I’ve lost several aunts to the disease, and my best friend’s mom died this past May due to complications stemming from breast cancer.
But a personal connection shouldn’t be needed to feel for human beings. A personal connection should not be the deciding factor between you posting a trending topic and actively giving a damn.
It shouldn’t have taken me to fly to a conference 1,400 miles away to understand the significance of HIV. I shouldn’t have had to witness the strength, resilience and commitment of those living with and advocating for HIV awareness for me to get it.
But it did.
These people who I’ve had the privilege to be around are living and fighting for their lives and those of other individuals. They are staunchly committed to their cause, much like many of you are Sunday night football.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I have all of the answers. Hell, I’m not sure what “going further” even means. But I do know that something needs to be done, and those fighting to eradicate HIV deserve our support on more than a part-time basis.
I hope you realize that too.
Shantell E. Jamison is a digital editor for EBONY.com and JETMAG.com. Her book, “Drive Yourself in the Right Direction” is available on Amazon. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @Shantell_em and Instagram @Shantell_em.