Jacques Whitfield's journey to HIV/AIDS advocacy was a complicated one. After 11 years of marriage, the Sacramento attorney confessed to his wife that he was gay. That admission followed years of cheating while Whitfield tried to pray away his homosexual feelings. The couple separated, but remained friends and continued to share parental duties.
Then in June 2007, Nikki Whitfield opened a letter from an insurer addressed to Jacques notifying him he was HIV-positive. Speaking recently to students at Cosumnes River College, Jacques recalled his feelings of disbelief when his estranged wife told him the news. "I'm smart. I have three degrees. How the hell did I get HIV?" he said. "I couldn't believe that I'm a statistic."
But the former couple choose to see their experience as a teaching one. "I don't want anyone to have to go through what I went through," said Jacques. "My passion now is to spread this message of prevention and awareness to everyone."
Today, Jacques is one of 10 community outreach speakers for Sacramento's Center for AIDS Research, Education & Services. Last year, the "Positively Speaking" program reached more than 5,000 young people, said Julie Kennedy, a CARES community relations manager. Jacques also serves on the group's board of directors.
Nikki works full-time for CARES, educating the community on the dangers of "down-low" behaviors and urging the female partners of formerly incarcerated men to protect themselves from HIV. She has also hosted a forum on the topic that attracted 80 professional women, many of whom did not see themselves at risk of contracting HIV.