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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
Kai Chandler Lois Crenshaw Gary Paul Wright Fortunata Kasege Keith Green Lois Bates Greg Braxton Vanessa Austin Bernard Jackson

Raven Lopez

January 2006

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African-American Identity and HIV

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.

HIV, Health Care and Treatment

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?

I've been on Viracept [nelfinavir]. And now that they took me off of Viracept, I'm on Sustiva [efavirenz, Stocrin], Emtriva [emtricitabine, FTC] and Zerit [stavudine, d4T].

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?

I consider myself a peer educator. And I've been in POZ magazine and I do speeches on World AIDS Day and stuff like that.

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.

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More From This Resource Center

Magic Johnson Wants You to Know: He Isn't Cured of HIV

Living With HIV? African Americans Share Their Advice

Related Stories

More Personal Stories of Young People With HIV/AIDS

This article was provided by TheBody.

Reader Comments:

Comment by: jaylyn (memphis,tn) Thu., Jan. 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm UTC
your so strong hold on you can do it
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Comment by: kendra (virgina,virginia) Thu., Aug. 4, 2011 at 12:43 pm UTC
Hello raven my name is kendra um i really dont know how to say this but im going through the same thing as you are and i read your story and you are so strong!!! like i found out when i was 14 years old that i was postive and i didnt know and still dont know how to handel it and be as strong as you are. i was born with this condition and i look at life like im ready to go. im the second child out of 4 kids and im the only one that is postive??? when i found out i talked to my mother about the situation and its like she dont want to come to grips with it?she wont talk to to me how i got it or nothing its like unreal to her.i dont have any hope im always angry but when i read your story i knew there was some hope for me and i want to say thank you where i live in va don't have a support group and if they did wouldnt nobody show up because they are ashamed:( i just want you to know what should i do to come to grips that im postive, because somedays are harder then the rest and i just want to give up this race that im running and when those days get unbearable i dont take my meds and i do awhole 360 down hill and i know thats not good.i want and need a postive person around me that i can talk too that really understands what im going through, because no matter what cant nobody unless u going though it urself can ever understand what u going through!
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Comment by: jaylyn t (memphis,tn) Thu., Jan. 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm UTC
i am only 10 years old and i wanted to get more information about your disease reading your story gives me information and makes me fill so sorry for you but you story inspired me to protect my self thank you jaylyn

Comment by: Andy (Tampa, FL) Thu., Feb. 3, 2011 at 3:23 am UTC
Raven your story is very extra ordinary! I know how you feel when you wake up and have to take those pills......My advice to you is to keep fighting and living each day like you're doing right now. Remember the good lord doesn't give us nothing we can't handle. Take care of your self :)
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Comment by: KENYATTA (MIAMI, FLORIDA) Thu., Dec. 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm UTC
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Comment by: juanita (johannesburg rsa) Sun., Nov. 7, 2010 at 3:36 pm UTC
hey raven just want to know how u doing because i see your story is updated in 2008..God has sent u my way im busy adopting a black baby girl from zimbabwe in africa she is now 18months and we tested her 2 weeks ago the results came back positive. u gave us so much hope uve grown into a beautiful teenager what a blessing!
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Comment by: regina (Joahnnesburg. SA) Sun., Sep. 26, 2010 at 2:50 pm UTC
I am really inspired. If only i have the courage like yours i would have changed million hearts. keep on doing the Good Work. May God give you more years and fufill your dreams.
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Comment by: regina (Joahnnesburg SA) Sun., Sep. 26, 2010 at 1:46 pm UTC
I am really inspired. If only i have the courage like yours i would have changed million hearts. keep on doing the Good Work. May God give you more years and fufill your dreams.
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Comment by: Rose (Nairobi,Kenya) Wed., Jun. 16, 2010 at 8:23 am UTC
Gal,may God satisfy you with long life.(Psalms 91:16)My nieces aged 17 and 10 were born with HIV,their mom died in 2003 but their dad has continued to support them.Enjoy your youth and take care.
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Comment by: ladyee (new jersey) Fri., Jun. 4, 2010 at 12:57 am UTC
I just found out that my son is HIV+. I was at a lost and was trying to be brave and supportive for him. I'm angry and depressed for I feel he doesn't deserve this. Your sharing has helped me tremendously. I thank you for being the brave young lady you are. I hope that my son and I can do as your mother states, "do what you have to do." Again thank you!!!
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Comment by: Kyandra Findlay (Brooklyn) Tue., Jan. 12, 2010 at 11:42 pm UTC
Raven this is KiKi we use to go to yabc together u culd have told me im not the type i didnt even know reading ur story i was shocked but it doesnt matter u are a human bein u have the right of living your life forget everybodys negativity god gave u a gift thats life and i want u to know im here for u as a friend if u need me just like i was in YABC
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Comment by: keya (seattle, WA) Thu., Nov. 12, 2009 at 1:16 am UTC
Hi, Raven. Thank you for sharing. I'm a black women born with it, as well. You are so brave. Right now, I am attending college. Well, it was hard for me growing up and relizig my strenghth with allot of negativity regarding my complex of idenity. I really thought your story was moving and how you were honest. I am now realzing that I shouldn't let HIV control me, my mother does not want me to disculse with other people but in order to heal I have to share my story with people.. still a battle, people be saying harsh stuff sometimes... but I do share when I feel safe (very rare) In regards to relationship, thank you for sharing, for me, I never really had a serous romantic relationship because of the fear of rejection and the emotinal distress of infecting people and would just feel horible. Well, as of now I am working on a paper about the impact hiv and aids has on lesbian, gay, men and women of color in partner relationships for enlish. Well, I hope all is well. Thank you for sharing, keya. Well, here is my email if you want to contact me Thank you for your story and soon one day I will have the courage to speak my story in public like this ;) thanx sista!
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Comment by: jay (columbia,sc) Tue., Aug. 11, 2009 at 8:50 pm UTC
hey raven..your story really lifted me. i'm 18 and just found out i'm preliminarily positive. i broke down cause i didn't know how to tell my family and friends. reading your story really really relieved me. you are an inspiration.
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Comment by: blanche (haiti) Tue., Jun. 23, 2009 at 4:57 pm UTC
u r a so very strong young lady,i did the same thing too ,but sometimes it brings tears in my eyes because still humanity don't know the true meaning of love...They be with u when u r ok, but the goes down...Most of the time, the guy whom i run away when i tell them about my situation but the one who really wants me is married but there is nothing i can do for him. we just become the best friends ever.
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Comment by: Shayleah Thanars (Houston,Tx) Mon., Jun. 22, 2009 at 4:11 pm UTC
I don't know you but I feel like I do from reading your profile. I think you're so brave, beautiful, and smart and my heart and prayers goes out to you. I wish I could hug you now. Although I do not have the virus, I can say you are a strong woman and I commend you 100% precent. When I found out I had HERPES and I would have it for the rest of my life I was devastated. I am so proud of you. I would like to write you via email but i'll let you decide if you want to become friends. My e mail is I gotta go, but my heart goes out to you and your family. I hope to hear from you.
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Comment by: Crystal (Newyork) Wed., May. 13, 2009 at 11:48 pm UTC
I respect your courage to just come out and just tell people that you are HIV positive and always rember god is always on your side... And alwaYs continue to inform and educate the Ignorant and those who want to learn more...
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Comment by: stephanie sawyer (jacksonville,fl) Fri., Apr. 17, 2009 at 11:02 pm UTC
continue to be the strong,brave angel that God put in this world. you were created for that purpose to be a light for so many other people. God loves you and so do I. REMEMBER GOD HAS SO MUCH TO GIVE YOU BECAUSE YOURE GIVING SO MUCH BACK. RAVEN MY EMAIL ADDRESS IS STEPHANIE-39@LIVE.COM WRITE ME LOVE TO TALK TO YOU.
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Comment by: Ty Queena Johnson (Brooklyn, N.Y) Sun., Apr. 12, 2009 at 10:32 pm UTC
Owow!!! that's a very touch'n story. it's good 2 hear a young person talk about things like that. it inspires people to go get tested and to ask their partner questions and to get them tested...You are a strong girl you...You have been through so much and you are still strong. that's good...Your story really touched me and brought a tear to my eye cause I have a friend in the same situation as you and I always let her know no matter what she gonna always be my friend and I'll love her when no one else will
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Comment by: I (seattle) Thu., Apr. 2, 2009 at 4:36 pm UTC
Raven u are a very strong girl i am sure God is with u all the time! Take care o your self
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Comment by: Lilli (Florence,ORegon) Thu., Feb. 5, 2009 at 4:37 pm UTC
Raven i think your a truly amazing person and that your story will really help a lot of people out there who are struggling. It's good to hear such a positive story.
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Comment by: amerah (SAUDI ARABIA) Mon., Feb. 2, 2009 at 1:16 am UTC
U CAN DO IT!!!!!
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Comment by: wanda inman (winter haven ,fl) Thu., Jan. 22, 2009 at 10:49 am UTC
Raven, I think you are a very brave and courageous young adult lady to even come forth and share your story. Many young women of your age bracket will keep something like that to themselves and continue to spread "The Monster". I really admire you. To me you are focused and have the right people in your life for moral support. Most of all, Thank God, we have people who are educated on this stuff to keep it under control and manageable to live your life to the fullest. e-mail at Keep looking up to hills.
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Comment by: LEILA (MOMBASA, KENYA) Wed., Jan. 21, 2009 at 7:43 am UTC
it's not her wish to be born like that, take courage and God is with u and with God everything is possible.
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Comment by: Mobe Kgatla (South Africa) Wed., Jan. 21, 2009 at 6:45 am UTC
Gal. Your story blew me over. I read your mother's story first then yours. You are such a courageous young gal but you know what, You are a start. Mxwa
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Comment by: trinidadian Girl (trinidad) Tue., Dec. 30, 2008 at 11:10 am UTC
I'm a Trinidadian, i would like to know her link to trinidad though. I think that she is a courageous girl and i am pround of her stringth. However being HIV negative,I would like to be informed if I intent to have a sexual realtionship with someone if they are HIV positive. It is unfair to take that decision away from some who is negative. As a HIV negative person i want to decide for my self if i am willing to take the risk. Suppose the condom broke! I could only imagine how that poor guy felt when he was told because its only human that you would feel scared until you are tested and retested to be sure thats six months of distress that could of been avoided.
And to be honest being 14 is wayyyyyyy to young to be engaging in sexual activity, that is not acceptable in Trinidad.
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Comment by: Raven (bk) Tue., Nov. 11, 2008 at 2:38 pm UTC
Thanks, everybody.
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Comment by: Mia Roman Hernandez (New York City) Wed., Aug. 27, 2008 at 12:17 pm UTC
I love this website. I am an advocate for healthy and longer living for the youth. I try to incorporate the arts in everything i do and ahs proven to be quite successful with the youth community. I am having a YOuth AIDS awareness event in NYC on October 11th 2008 and would like to know how i can connect with some of the youth that are listed on this site. I would like to personally invite them to my event and hopefully participate as guest speakers or performers. If they are poets we will have poetry, if they are artists we have art, if they are public advocate speakers the stage is theirs. I am looking for this event to be a fun filled event with a focus on awarenes and prevention. I have a FREE HIV testing van on site, pamphlets, guest speakers, etc. I am hoping to get the youth to be involved and be the leaders to their peers. Lets spread the word together instead of the virus.
my contact e-mail is
I can send a proposal and more info for anyone intersted.
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