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This Positive Life: An Interview With Leslie and Andrea Williams

February 1, 2011

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Kellee Terrell: She didn't live with you at the time?

Andrea Williams: No, they were living in Virginia with my mother. And they would come up during the summer. So I had to go to the doctor, and I told her, "Well, I've got to go to the doctor tomorrow. So you'll go over here and I'll be back later."

And she said, "Mommy, why you keep going to the doctor?" Because I went to the doctor the week before. So I just said to her, "Because I'm HIV positive."

And she just sat here, and she looked. She didn't say anything. Then she said, "So why didn't you use condoms?" Now, this girl was eight years old. I was shocked, and I just didn't know what to say, so I said, "Because I didn't think about using them at the time." And I just walked away.


But she knew because during that time, they had the talk shows like Sally Jesse Raphael and these shows had these kids who were talking about HIV. And she learned from them. So she knew more than I thought she did. But she was ready. She needed to know. And I told her.

Then we talked about it. I said, "So what do you know about HIV?" And she told me everything that she knew.

Kellee Terrell: And she was eight?

Andrea Williams: She was eight.

Kellee Terrell: And what about the 13-year-old?

Andrea Williams: Ebony knew already. You know, she had information. She knew what was going on.

Kellee Terrell: And so how did you tell your other kids?

Leslie Williams: I just told them.

Kellee Terrell: And what did they say?

Leslie Williams: They didn't say anything.

Kellee Terrell: And how many other kids do you have?

Leslie Williams: Three girls.

Kellee Terrell: Three girls. You guys have all girls? That's six girls.

Andrea Williams: All girls. Six girls.

Kellee Terrell: Even though it's the '90s and people are talking about HIV, living in Brooklyn in a black community, there was a lot of silence -- and still is today. How did you kind of navigate your way through that?

Andrea Williams: Well, I started going to a support group. During my pregnancy was when I needed a support group. So I started going to support groups, like, after I had her. I met a group of women. I went to a conference in California in '97. And I met some women. They were in a group called Sister to Sister. So I joined their group.

"I went to three different support groups during the week, and each one of those support groups gave me something different."

-- Andrea Williams

From joining Sister to Sister, they had a men's group called Brother to Brother. He went to Brother to Brother. So, we went to support groups.

Kellee Terrell: How beneficial were support groups for you?

Andrea Williams: Well, I went to three different support groups during the week, and each one of those support groups gave me something different. I went to the support group at CAMBA, which I think was the best. Because there was always a topic at every meeting, so it was structured. It was a great group. I think that's the group that I got the most out of, from sitting in a room with 20 women: mothers, grandmothers and even great-grandmothers. And everybody had a positive attitude. Everybody was living and came every week. And everybody had something good to say. And it was all about living. Nobody was down, talking about, "We're dying." None of that.

The other group I went to was at Betty Shabazz. I liked that group because they had movie tickets. They went to Great Adventure. You know, they did things outside. You could bring the kids.

And then the other group, Sister to Sister was so much different. It was, um . . . we would go from house to house. So it was like 10 women in the group. Every week we would go to a different house. Whoever hosted it would cook the food. It was just interesting, because each week you thought that these women would grow. They would come with an issue. We'd give our information, try to help them; and here they come, back with the same issue the next week.

So a lot of times I was sitting there, saying, "Why am I in this group? I don't need this group." But that group needed me. Even though they had facilitators and I was just in the group, the women wound up calling me during the week, right? If something was going on, I'm the person that they wound up talking to. Because the facilitators, too all had issues. I guess you're put in places for a reason. So that's the only reason why I kept going to that group.

Kellee Terrell: That's a big commitment to go to three support groups a week.

Andrea Williams: Every Monday night for two years, we did Sister to Sister. He used to keep the kids when they used to come to my house. He would take them to the movies. We lived in Canarsie. The movie theater was across the street. Everybody would bring their kids.

Kellee Terrell: And so what was your support group experience like?

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