When did you first realize that you were black?
To tell you the truth, I am black and Hispanic. And my mother is like, "You have more black in you." I'm mixed with so much stuff, but I call myself black because I'm brown-skinned. But until like the fourth grade ... one time I was talking to my homegirl and I was like, "Hey, nigga'." And my teacher was like, "Do you understand what that word means?" And then she went on to describe everything for me. And I was like, "Wow! She's describing us. We're black!" And then I really understood everything.
To what extent have you experienced racism in your life?
I have not had to deal with any of those kinds of things.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing African-Americans today in terms of HIV?
From my point of view, when black people find out they have the disease, they don't know what to do -- and I think they just go ballistic, they try to commit suicide and stuff like that. They don't know how to tell their partner or their family, they don't know how people are going to react to them. So maybe they say things like, "What's the purpose of me living?"
Are there specific HIV risk factors of special concern to African Americans?
There are kids that don't know anything about this disease. And if they catch it, I don't know, they may just start to go crazy and kill themselves or do something stupid.
Are there any specific aspects of African-American culture or identity that give you strength as you learn to live with HIV?
My relationship with my mother gives me strength. I just hate taking pills every day. Some days I don't want to take them but my mom, she's like, "Come on, Raven, you have to do this." But I have my days when I don't want to do nothing. I just want to be like, "Leave me alone. I just want to be a kid. I don't want to take medicine." And she's like, "You gotta do what you gotta do."
What is the biggest change you'd like to see in HIV for African Americans?
I wish they could find a cure.
How about in HIV education and prevention?
I wish that, like back in my time, if a doctor had to tell a six-year-old, I wish that a six-year-old could be like, "Oh, I know what that means." I wish they could break it down so that a six-year-old could understand it more.
Do you think the Bush administration is doing enough for the black epidemic?
Nope! I don't like the president that we have right now. I wish we had Bill Clinton. I just don't like Bush. He has done a lot of stuff in this world that was just unnecessary.
So how would you grade his performance?
I would give him a negative zero times a zero. If I was to see him right now I would just tell him that I don't like him at all.
What are the top myths about HIV that you hear in your community?
Oh, like, HIV could make you turn ugly. Or you could die from it like within a week. I heard outrageously stupid stuff like that. And at first, when I was a little kid, I really didn't understand it. I used to believe those kinds of things. I used to always come home to my mother asking her new questions about it like, "Mom, can you die from this like within a week?" And she would be like, "No!" But I used to hear outrageous stuff, like it makes your hair fall out, it makes you lose your body shape, and stuff like that. And some medicines, they do make you lose your body shape, but they say crazy stuff like it makes your hair fall out and you lose a lot of weight and all that.
What are your fears and hopes for your generation of African Americans as they face the risks of HIV?
I think that if we still have this president that we have now ... I don't know! There are still a lot of kids in this world that don't understand this HIV virus. They think that you can't touch them or that you can't drink after them. Half of these kids probably don't even know what HIV is. They probably think it's the monster. And you could be like, "Do you know what the monster is?" And they would be like, "Yeah, we know what the monster is." And then you could be like, "What do you think it is?" And they will be like, "Oh?" And then if you ask them how you catch it, they would be like, "Oh ... by drinking off of them and stuff." I don't think that kids in this world really understand. You have to, like, really sit down with them and tell them what it really is.
What has been your experience with HIV treatment so far?
I've been good. When I was younger, I did have to go to the hospital. I had pneumonia. I was very sick, but so far I've been doing good. My T cells and everything is very good. I do take my medicine once in a ... well, I can't say once in a blue. I do take my medicine now. But at first, I did take a little vacation, because I didn't feel like taking them no more. But now I'm back on track. I've been on medication since I was, what ... six?
Do you have any other illnesses that have complicated your health?
What HIV medications have you been on?
How do you feel about your meds?
It's good, because at first I used to take eight pills in the morning and eight pills at night, and that used to be so hard for me. My mother had to crunch them up at night. But now, what I am on is easy for me to swallow and easy for me to carry anywhere. When I had to take those eight pills, I had to carry them in a tissue and swallow them one by one. And I used to be so embarrassed and stuff.
What kinds of side effects have you experienced from your meds, if any?
I had breakouts on my skin and I used to sleep a lot, and my body used to be weak. I've gotten through that, because they gave me vitamins and stuff like that. But I don't take the vitamins anymore. I still be a little sleepy, because the Sustiva makes you sleepy, but I'm doing good so far.
Have you ever had to go off treatment because of side effects?
No, not at all.
How would you rate your ability to take your meds on schedule?
I'm on schedule ... I'm really good. Sometimes my mother has to remind me, sometimes I remind myself.
Do you have any special rituals or preparations that help you remember to take them?
Sometimes my friends will ask me, "Did you take your medicine this morning?" Or my brother, he will ask me. Or sometimes, the night before, I will just put my medicine in front of my dresser so I know to take it.
Did you have any say-so in choosing your doctor, or was that your mom?
That was my mother. Since I was, I think, four years old, I've had the same doctor.
How often do you see him?
I see him within like two to three months. Personally ... he says, like, he really don't even know why he has me on medicine, since I am doing so good. I'm real healthy and stuff.
Do you think you are getting the best care possible?
Yes, I am.
Is your doctor an African American?
No. He's white.
Do you think an African-American doctor can understand African-American patients better?
There's no difference.
What kind of relationship do you have with your doctor?
A very good relationship! I talk to him like he is my brother.
Does he treat you like a partner in terms of making decisions about your health?
Do you have a health regimen that helps you stay well?
I'm gonna tell you, to be honest, I'm very lazy. But I do what I gotta do, though.
Do you consider yourself an activist?
How has doing this kind of work helped you to improve your life and health?
It makes me wiser, because when people used to make fun of me, I used to sit there and cry and let them make fun of me. But now, since I am older, I know what to say to them. I know to ignore them and stuff like that.