Monday, December 3, 2012

Saturday December 1st Dual Meaning for me!

You know when I was young December 1st only had one meaning for me, but as I got older and the AIDS pandemic was realized that day was forever changed for me.  Today I am one out of countless people that deal with living with HIV the precursor to AIDS.  Now, a lot has changes since the 80's with the hysteria and rumors running rampant through the country.  The life expectancy of a newly infected person is now close to 30 years with the current drugs that are on the market.  However, that doesn't mean that there still aren't deaths and complications that can arise that can shorten someone's lifespan.  As the title suggest I have now two reasons to celebrate on December 1st.  I guess the first and foremost one would be that it is my birthday, and second is the celebration of Worlds AIDS Day.

This year I am celebrating my 44th birthday, I am blessed and lucky to have such a long life.  Though I have health issues and concerns, I have still outlived some of my closest and dearest friends and loved ones.  See, in the early years of HIV/AIDS there wasn't much knowledge about the disease, how it was spread, and what could be done to treat it.  Many of my friends died a very painful and agonizing death, others became detached because of dementia and other factors.  It was hard for me watching so many of the people I love die, even worse was the fact that a longtime partner didn't even recognize me or know me the day that he died. We had been together for years, I was the lucky one, I didn't contract the disease right away.  As a matter of fact when he died in 95, I was finishing up my first battle with colon cancer and seemed to be none the worse for wear.

I have to be honest I was lost for quite awhile after his death, and so I decided to go back to school and that is when I first discovered my love for writing.  Here we are 20 years later and I am still writing and that is a blessing.  But nothing could take away the pain nor the hole that was left in my life by his passing. However, in 1997 I met an extraordinary person who moved me away from Orlando and my family and took me to the  "Big City" of Atlanta.  Where I actually lived and worked till this year.  I have met some wonderful and beautiful people on my journey, and I have made some big mistakes.  It is also where I contracted the virus that I had so carefully avoided.  I am the type of person that learns everything I can about the diseases and illness I am faced with.  Through that knowledge it led me to a greater understanding of the people that are affected by the disease as well as those infected by it.  See it is important to remember that a person doesn't actually have to be infected by the disease for it to affect them in some way.  None of us are immune to feeling the effects of a friend or loved one becoming infected.  Of course the circumstances and the situations are different still between the affected and the infected.

When I moved to Volusia County in February of 2012 I didn't know what I was going to find.  I came here blind only knowing my father.  Didn't even know the person he was living with. So I was on my own.  No friends, only my dad, no car, no money.  But I came anyway, and I have to tell you that I am happy that I did.  Through my curiosity and wanting to keep up with my medical treatments for HIV, I contacted the Florida AIDS helpline and got some information on resources in my area. Within a matter of days I had set up appointments and began my journey.  My first case manager, was Donna Wood, a wonderful woman who like me cares about people and their welfare.  She took me under her wing and talked to me about several programs that she thought I might be interested in, and by the summer I had joined and became part of several groups that advocate and fight the stigmas, myths and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS.  She also encouraged me to continue my writing and telling my story to anyone and everyone that would listen, for that I am going to be ever grateful.  So this year when the Positive Champions Speakers Bureau talked about doing an event for raising money for our group during the Worlds AIDS Week celebration I quickly volunteered to help.

The group decided that we were going to do a dinner and a play for our fundraiser.  We met with other organizations and coordinated our efforts so that we could do the play and not interfere with anyone else's events.  It was held at the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Sciences.  It was a catered affair, with a wine and cheese reception before, a slide presentation during the meal and then our performance.  The turn out was spectacular, and I have to say that we all had a great time.  It was a learning time and a time for coming together.  We took a topic that is highly sensitive, we broke it down into real life examples, told our story, and we did it in such a way that it wasn't heavy or stale, and gave it a human face, and a little humor and it was met with a great response. I am proud to say that I was the co-author the play, and I believe that throughout the work you can see the upbeat and positive energy that was lovingly put into it.  For those of you who didn't get to attend you missed something spectacular and revealing.

But you know, it was after the play was done and everyone was leaving that I had a chance to talk to some of the wait staff and people that were behind the scenes, and you know what was amazing to me was how open and receptive these young people were to the message we were sending out.  Two of the young men that were on the Banquet line and passing through the tables collecting the dirty dishes were 17 years old, they saw and heard the play, and one of them told me that he had learned a lot about the disease that he didn't know from our play, and that we had taken a taboo subject and made it humorous and delivered it with a delicacy that was excellent.  That the facts and figures that were expressed were done in a way that made them memorable and helped him to feel more comfortable about being tested and finding out more about the disease.  Now trust me when I tell you that I was touched by this. Because our goal is to address the younger generation, educate them, help them to understand the stigmas, fears that surround the disease and finding out that you are positive.

The young man went on to say that he was impressed with me because of my response to when I was asked questions about my health and how I managed to stay so upbeat and positive with all that I am facing.  Honestly, it was him and his willingness to talk to me that impressed me.  See, I am living with it, I have been dealing with it for awhile and I have come through the stigmas, social fears, the pressure of when to disclose and when not too, so talking to others about my illness has become second nature to me.  But here was a young man wanting to know more about what he could do to help bring awareness to his peers and friends and that my friends made the whole evening worthwhile.  Yes it is true that we want an end to the disease, the persecution, and the segregation that we feel when we disclose, but we also want to reach these young people. Help them to understand that safe sex, and getting tested routinely is important.  We want them to realize that HIV/AIDS doesn't care if you are gay or straight, male or female, white or black, hispanic or asian, it doesn't care if you are rich or poor, it doesn't care at all! We are all targets for it.  We also want them to realize that there are cultural differences that will be barriers that they may have to overcome and that there are others out there just like them that are going through the same things, and that there are people who care and are willing to help them.  No one has to face this alone.

Now as I close this entry, I want you to think about this, HIV/AIDS can impact your life at anytime, through yourself or those around you.  You can't tell if someone is sick or infected just by looking at them.  Heck three out of five people today are infected and have no signs of illness or even know that hey are infected.  You just can't tell.  We each have a voice and we can do something about this, we have been too quiet for far too long, people are still dying out there, and HIV/AIDS hasn't gone away.  Talk to your friends and family about it.  Volunteer your time if you have some, educate yourself and learn more about how it is affecting your community. Become a light in the darkness and let others know you care.  Though World's AIDS Day is only celebrated once a year, I hope that you will take the initiative in your own life and make it a celebration every day like I do.

I also want to say thank you for all of you who came to the benefit, saw our play and enjoyed yourself. I am glad you came, I am happy that we were able to deliver not hard topic to discuss, but also shared with you a part of ourselves and our stories.  You made all our efforts worthwhile.  Thank you to the Positive Champions Speaker's Bureau for becoming my family, my friends, and letting me be a part of your group.  Thank you for the support you have shown me this entire year as I have been battling my own health issues, and most of all thank you with trusting me with your stories, so that the play could be written and acted out. Thank you for listening to my advice and suggestions when we were rehearsing, and for making this event such a wonderful experience for everyone.

I would also like to say that I am so very proud of you all, for putting yourselves out there and giving of yourselves daily to each other and the community.  Your efforts inspire me and make me happy to have found such a group of loving and supportive people.  I am already looking forward to the coming year and all the things that we can do to help improve our community and our group.

I love you all!

As always my hopes and dreams are with you,

Uncle B