Felisa Shelby is the featured speaker at "It's Up to Me," an event taking place Monday on the eve of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Shelby is the author of In the Storm Too Long: Refusing to Lose This Battle, an autobiographical account of living with HIV for nearly 14 years.
Shelby was diagnosed with HIV two weeks after learning she was pregnant. The response from relatives included public humiliation. "They stood out in the street, in front of people, outside, yelling," she recalled. "I was so angry. It was awful."
The rejection eventually sapped Shelby's will to live: She took her medication only intermittently, if at all, and withdrew socially. Then in 2005, a doctor told her she would die within a year unless she changed. "It took me from then until now to finally get it together," she noted. "I got so tired of laying around the house and letting the world control my life. I was tired of the world shaming me and embarrassing me, throwing my illness up in my face."
The thoughts Shelby wrote down as a way to cope eventually became the book. "If someone out there, after reading my story, knows of anyone going through this or a similar illness that could affect a person for the rest of their life, grab them by the hand and let them know they're not alone," she implored.
Shelby shares her story whenever she can. "I want people to know you are somebody regardless of what you have been diagnosed with," she said. "I want them to know how I got from being HIV-positive to where I am today. I am blessed."
The event is open to persons age 21 and up. For more information, view the flyer at www.avolky.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/coalitionFlyer8-5x11.pdf.