Last week was the Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS and I participated in events in Kansas City, MO and Kansas City, KA. I was the guest speaker on a six-stop high school tour sponsored by the Balm of Gilead and Calvary Community Outreach Network. The week went by pretty smoothly. The high school students soaked up the information. For me? The last school I visited brought back memories.
Rev. Gilmore introduced me at the final school on the tour, Southeast High School. During his introduction, he mentioned that I was on Oprah, BET’s 106th and Park and so on. He then told the crowd that he knew that some of them were wondering why they had to sit there and listen to an AIDS talk and that maybe they were thinking it wouldn’t relate to them. Out of the 300 students in the gym, I heard several make sounds of agreement, followed by laughter. As I walked up to the mic, my legs began to get weak and I had a flashback of being in high school. I remember being a part of that laughter and probably being in agreement with these students and my eyes began to water.
I walked up to that mic MAD. I was mad because I was right where they were five years ago. Looking out into that crowd, I saw my friends and myself. They continued to do their own thing while I stood there, playing with their PSP’s and cell phones. I usually start off my speech from the time I found myself in a hospital bed but this time was different. I started off in high school when I was just like them. When I opened my mouth and told them that I was looking into a mirror and I never cared about HIV either. That it took me to be infected with the virus to care. They got quiet.
In the middle of my speech, a girl’s cell phone rang. I was fine with it until she decided to answer it. I stopped my presentation and asked her if she was done with her call. You see she was a bit confused, thinking that I was there for me. No, baby; you see I already have HIV. I am here for you, to help make sure you do not get the virus. I had her complete attention at that time. I was not going to have it any other way. I lived my whole life thinking HIV was a word, not an acronym. I did not know it stood for something and that the something related to me.
I finished the presentation more relieved than I have ever been. I answered the typical questions: Do I still have sex and do I date? But then I was asked what HIV does to a person’s body. I told them that HIV simply lives in the blood stream and weakens the immune system. Then I told them that FOR ME, HIV is not that hard to live with. Ironically, the worst side effect is usually having to deal with ignorant and uneducated people.