Table of Contents
- Personal Bio
- HIV Diagnosis
- African-American Identity and HIV
- HIV, Health Care and Treatment
- Disclosure, Relationships and Sex
- Resolutions, Adventures and Likes
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live with my partner, who is also HIV positive. We've been together for two years now, and I can tell you, he is the half that makes me a whole.
We've just finished having our own home built in a neighborhood of Chicago where the community is primarily African American but beginning to become interracial, traditional becoming contemporary. It's a fascinating thing to see, every day someone walking their dog or riding their bike who is not a person of color. Most of the neighbors are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward us new people.
I work as a substance-abuse counselor at a Chicago AIDS service organization.
Where did you grow up?
South side of Chicago!
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
What kinds of work have you done?
Most of my work has been in advertising and sales. And it wasn't until I went through what I had to go through living with HIV and substance abuse that I began to take my past and use that to be of service to other people. That's why I went back to school to become certified as a substance-abuse counselor and became involved in HIV/AIDS. I was living with it for so long that I thought, "Hell, I guess I know something about it!" My career changed from Fortune 500 companies into social service. I get the greatest benefits from what I'm doing now, even though it's not a lot of money, because it's a giving-back feeling.
What work did your parents do?
My father was a laborer in a bakery for over 30 years. My mother was a homemaker. She took in a lot of work -- did sewing, made quilts, was the policy provider in that neighborhood.
Policy was a gambling game in the black community -- it was based on little numbered strips. She distributed the policy strips and collected the money. She sold Avon. My mother was really an entrepreneur and the bread-provider for the family. The home was actually paid for through all of her little ventures.
Who are the most influential people in your life?
Gandhi! If you ever read Gandhi's writings, it'll just change you completely. And once again, family -- I have a sister who's been living with cancer since the early '80s. I've seen her struggles, and there is nothing she can't deal with or overcome. She had a brain tumor the size of a walnut, was one of the first persons at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago to attempt having the surgery, when there was like a 50/50 chance of survival. So there's a lot of encouragement that comes from her.
Tell us a little bit about your partner.
We've been together for two years, next month. We met going through an HIV-treatment education program at an AIDS service organization, dated a moment or two, and then moved in together and got a dog -- Angel, our pit bull -- and we've been one happy family ever since.
Do you participate in an AIDS service organization? Have these organizations been helpful to you in improving your life and health?
Outside of the work and activities I do with the one organization, not much anymore. I used to volunteer -- one organization was a homeless shelter, where I would try to identify anyone in recovery or living with HIV to help get them services. The other was Goldie's Place, which is a full-service organization for the homeless, and I did a lot of menial-type service work, helping them in their clothing room and stuff. I'd like to get back into that -- it is definitely something that I feel improves my health, giving and not expecting anything in return.
Do you consider yourself an AIDS activist?
No. For me, that would entail getting more involved with what takes place politically with HIV, talking to decision-makers in social service organizations, being politically connected and knowing all of the changes happening with pharmaceutical companies and things like that. Personally, I could see where others may see activism in the work I do, talking every day with people who are living with HIV, but that's just something I do and enjoy doing.
Are you a religious or spiritual person? How does your church address HIV?
I am Muslim now, but was raised a Christian. It wasn't until I could question religion that I began to look into Islam and realize the peace that's inside Islam. I think what got me even more was the means to discipline myself. The discipline and the peace is really what has helped me living with HIV a whole lot. To the best of my knowledge, there's not really a lot of conversation surrounding HIV and AIDS in the Islamic community. One of the tenets of Islam is that what happens inside of the family, stays within the family.
How did you find out you were HIV positive?
I was experiencing gastric ulcers in '85, and the doctor was trying to rule out anything else that might be wrong with me. Because I was honest with my doctor at all times, he suggested that I "take this test" -- I didn't know what it was. So I discovered, after I went back a few weeks later, that it was positive.
How have your feelings about living with HIV change over time?
Well, being diagnosed, I felt that I was going to die. The doctor stated to me that only 10 percent of the people with this disease will survive, and I'm thinking, "Well, If only 10 percent survive, then there's a 90 percent mortality rate." So considering the lifestyle that I was part of -- sex, drugs and rock and roll, tongues, toes and titties -- I figured that, certainly, I was part of that 90 percent, so I would just do whatever I could to enjoy today as if there was no tomorrow.
After years of a reckless lifestyle, I woke up one morning and discovered that, "Wow, it's been 15 years, I'm healthy, I have a very good immune system, and I'm still living!" So I figured that either the doctor was wrong or that God had another plan for my life. And that's when I began to turn it around a little bit.
What conditions in your life put you at risk for getting infected?
Well, certainly multiple partners. I was living a very bisexual lifestyle. I was in college in the mid-to-late '70s, and it was all about having a good time.
What advice would you give someone who has just tested positive?
Well, I break it down to being diagnosed with diabetes. It's a very manageable disease today -- there is no cure, but if a person does what needs to be done to maintain their health, then hopefully they should never be bothered with the complications due to HIV itself.
When you look back, what would you have needed in order not to get infected?
My thoughts on that stem from a spiritual perspective. In life, we have different challenges that we must face. I'm thinking of the guy in the Bible who kept telling God, "If you'll just remove the thorn from my side, my life would be so much better ..." Paul! It was Paul, who had a great turn-around in his life from persecuting Christians to becoming a Christian himself and leading people to Christ. All of us have a thorn in our side that we must bear in order to get where we must get, and I feel that this is just something that I had to go through.
What do you think is the first thing someone who has just found out they have HIV should do?
One of the first things to do is to seek medical advice; to find out what stage the disease is at in your body. Hopefully, it's still in the early stages, where a person would not have to go on any antiretroviral medications but simply have a relationship with their doctor and get proper care.
How has HIV changed you?
There are many things I would not have gotten into. One, I would not have been in and out of Cook County Jail, committing misdemeanor criminal acts to support a drug habit that eventually went full-blown after I discovered that I was HIV-positive. I didn't give a damn about much in life, and I did things that would, you know, say that I didn't care.