November 5, 2013
One in a series of profiles of the 2013 Fellows in the Black AIDS Institute's African American HIV University's Science and Treatment College.
Cedric Sturdevant lives and works in Jackson, Miss., where he is a very busy man. His primary job is project coordinator at the HIV/AIDS organization My Brother's Keeper, where he works with young Black MSM living with HIV/AIDS, implementing programs to help them foster healthy relationships. But his passion and commitment extend to other local AIDS-advocacy organizations: He is both the president of the board of Mississippi in Action and a facilitator for its men's HIV/AIDS support group.
The 48-year-old's journey into AIDS advocacy began when he was diagnosed with HIV in 2005. He went untreated for a year and ended up gravely ill in the hospital. It was there that a social worker invited him to engage in some advocacy work. Once his health improved, he began doing outreach for the Mississippi Community Planning Group for HIV prevention, which eventually led him to his current position with My Brother's Keeper.
Sturdevant's story may sound familiar: During his 20s, he was in a heterosexual marriage for seven years, raising two children. After the marriage ended, at 32 Cedric came out as gay. "I knew I was [gay] way before then, but that's when I came out," he says. In 1999 he began a relationship with a man, and after six years of unprotected sex they both became infected with HIV.
Sturdevant acknowledges that they were ignorant about practicing safer sex. "I assume that's how I got infected," he says. "We really never knew who infected who." Their ignorance proved fatal to his partner, who died from AIDS complications and was buried during the time Sturdevant was hospitalized.
Sturdevant learned about the Black AIDS Institute's Black Treatment Advocate Network (BTAN) while working for My Brother's Keeper. Through BTAN he had his first experience with the science of HIV/AIDS. "I found the BTAN training very interesting. It was different from anything I had been exposed to previously. I had never looked at any aspect of the science of this disease," he says.
As a local co-chair of BTAN in Jackson, Sturdevant began working throughout Mississippi and presenting to community groups. "We did a project called Mississippi Treatment Academy and mimicked what we learned from BTAN. It was great," he says.
Later he attended the African American HIV University Science and Treatment College (SCT). But its rigor caught him by surprise; he had no idea how intensive it would be. "It was a little scary, since I'm not what you would call a good student," he says. Despite this challenge, Sturdevant completed his assignments successfully. "I was really a little amazed at how much I had learned there and how well I did," he adds.
Now, he says, "When I do an HIV 101, I am able to integrate important information that I didn't have the knowledge to share before."
But as strapped for time as he feels today, Sturdevant believes that a much busier future lies ahead of him. Now that he has the SCT training, many groups and organizations have begun asking him to make presentations to them. Presentations that are sorely needed. As is true in many other communities with a large African American population, Jackson has a high HIV rate -- one driven by stigma and ignorance, particularly among young people. Sturdevant sees increasing infection rates among the young Black MSM he mentors.
"We're doing our interventions, but I wish we could get into the schools," he says.
AAHU's Science and Treatment Fellows will be blogging about their experiences. To read the blogs, go here.
Glenn Ellis is a Philadelphia-based health columnist and radio commentator who lectures nationally and internationally on ethics and equity in health care.