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This Positive Life: An Interview With Leslie and Andrea Williams

February 1, 2011

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Kellee Terrell: How important is it that you continue to do the work that you do?

Leslie Williams: I just keep talking.

Andrea Williams: That's all you can do.

"All you can do, is keep talking. If you know somebody and you can help him, one person a day, then just keep talking."

-- -Leslie Williams

Leslie Williams: That's all you can do, is keep talking. If you know somebody and you can help him, one person a day, then just keep talking. And the way I talk, people listen.

Kellee Terrell: Yeah, they do.

Leslie Williams: Do you remember that Magic Johnson incident?

Kellee Terrell: Yes! For the people who are watching the video right now, a few years ago we were at a church in Brooklyn where Magic was having an HIV/AIDS event. I believe it was the "I Stand with Magic" campaign. The church was completely packed and Leslie was sitting up high in the balcony. And then you started talking loud-- not yelling, like, disrespectfully, but you just started talking.

And what you said to Magic Johnson was, "I need for you to, you know, understand that as a straight black man, you know, living with HIV, it is very difficult. There are not a lot of resources for us. There are not a lot of support groups for us. And the more that we continue to keep talking about this disease as if it's just a black women's and just a gay man's disease, there's going to be a lot of brothers like me who are going to be silent." The whole church just stopped talking.


Leslie Williams: Because I told him. He said he had been HIV positive 16 years; I said, "I got more years on you."

Kellee Terrell: And you're both straight. Do you feel like that's a big problem, that people keep saying, "Down low, down low, down low: It's all about the down low." Yet there are straight men that are positive.

Andrea Williams: There are so many straight men that refuse to say that they are positive, because of the down low. They are afraid people will look at them and say, "Oh, you're gay." So they don't speak out. They just keep it silent -- even from women.

But then there are a lot of women who don't say anything, either. So it's all still a hidden subject. And people don't have conversations about sex and using condoms and did-you-have-a-test before they actually get into bed. It's a big issue.

Kellee Terrell: So let's talk about your work.

Andrea Williams: I'm a case manager.

Kellee Terrell: And so what is it like for you? You've been living with HIV for so long, and you see young people all the time.

Andrea Williams: Yeah. People come in every day, newly diagnosed. And the big thing now is that the people who are coming in newly diagnosed are coming in with AIDS.

Kellee Terrell: Late testers.

Andrea Williams: With less than 20 T cells.

Kellee Terrell: Are you serious?

Andrea Williams: They've never had a test.

Kellee Terrell: And so how long do they think they've been living with it?

Andrea Williams: Years.

Because for you to be at that point -- and I'll say to someone, "What made you go take a test?" "Oh, I wasn't feeling well." Or, "My doctor suggested I take a test." Or, "I went with a friend, because I never took a test before." Just crazy. People still have not been tested. And they're testing and they're coming up with AIDS. And they're really, really sick. So that's the big thing now that I'm experiencing with my clients.

Last week, I had a guy come in: Less than 20 CD4s, really sick, a mess. He took his blood work again. He started taking his medicine. Took his blood work. Two weeks later, he had 77 T cells. His viral load had gone down to, like, 6,000. Big difference. And he even looks better.

It's just a matter of people recognizing the fact that you're sick; something is wrong with you. Why don't you go take a test? If you've never tested, why not take a test?

Kellee Terrell: People are just afraid. What really I find interesting is this attitude of, your life ends once you find the result. Once you get the results, life's over. And it's like, no. Actually, life begins.

Andrea Williams: Well, that's where my role comes in. Because life began for me, you know? I started a new life. I'm a new person. And I can give them hope. I've been positive for 18 years. I'm not dying from HIV. I work every day, nine to five--sometimes nine to eight. And I go to school, I'm a student.

"[HIV] taught me to be a better man . . . as a father, as a husband, and as a person inside myself."

-- -Leslie Williams

Kellee Terrell: What has HIV taught you about yourself?

Leslie Williams: It taught me how to be a better man.

Kellee Terrell: In what way?

Leslie Williams: As a father, as a husband, and as a person inside myself. The things I did a long time ago, I wouldn't think about doing none of that now. So it taught me that I want to live.

Kellee Terrell: Because before, you didn't necessarily feel that way?

Leslie Williams: What, living?

Andrea Williams: Live for today.

Leslie Williams: I live for today.

Andrea Williams: But not for, you know, tomorrow or next year.

Kellee Terrell: And how has HIV changed you?

Andrea Williams: Wow. I had a little daughter -- after HIV. It gave me some focus, direction, a purpose. And you know, I know that I can do things that I didn't think I could do before.

Kellee Terrell: Like what?

Andrea Williams: After I had my daughter, I was in a house with a home attendant. I was laid up in a bed. I had an AIDS diagnosis. I was weak and could barely do anything with her. And after medication, it changed. It all changed. I just feel like I'm somebody different now. I can do whatever I want to do.

Kellee Terrell: Do you think that part of your optimistic attitude is because you had each other?

Andrea Williams: Probably. Yes.

Leslie Williams: No doubt about it.

Kellee Terrell: Aww.

Leslie Williams: Yo, we've been together going on 22 years.

Andrea Williams: It's going to be 22 years.

Kellee Terrell: For anyone who's just newly diagnosed, what piece of advice would you give to them?

Andrea Williams: My advice would be get as much information as you can, know what your options are and use condoms, because just because have HIV, it doesn't mean you can't get other stuff. You only want HIV. You don't want anything else to go with it.

Kellee Terrell: What about you?

Leslie Williams: Same thing.

Kellee Terrell: Nothing else?

Leslie Williams: Nothing else.

Kellee Terrell: She said it best?

Leslie Williams: She said it great.

Kellee Terrell: With that, the interview will come to an end. Thank you so much for taking time out of your weekend to speak with me.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for and

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