[dropcap]I[/dropcap]s it just me or do people really see what I see? Do people really understand that after fifty years of HIV in America the stigma still stands as if HIV was just introduced into this country? I wonder how is it that a teenager in the United States could grow up here for fifteen, sixteen, or even seventeen years and is completely clueless about HIV. Last weekend, I was shocked to have learned that someone close to me has a grandchild who never heard of HIV and he is fifteen. The only words that I have for that are, we as adults have dropped the ball and if we do not get back on track we will succeed in failing our young people.
So, what is the irony behind this ignorance? My thoughts are that stigma has shut the mouths of the people. Again, I say that these are simply my thoughts. In the black community, and I can discuss this because these are some of the things that I had to face as a black woman living in Dallas, Texas, following the traditions of the African-American culture not to ever speak about HIV or question our partner about their status and believing because I am faithful in church that it will never happen to me. Especially now that I am aware of my HIV-positive diagnosis I started SAAVED, Inc., in hopes of tackling some of these ethical issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.
I remember growing up completely unaware of HIV—it was a subject you didn’t talk about. I had a male cousin who was homosexual and by the time I was eight or nine years of age he had gotten very sick. I remember my mother and grandmother going to visit him, and my brother and I were told to stay in the living room and not to go into the back room where he was. Of course we were obedient, but as I was going into the living area to sit down I looked down the hall and saw him lying there and the image of him that I saw overshadows any other image that I can remember of him. The blisters and sores that covered his small frame of a body still haunt me today. We were told that he was very sick and when I begun to ask questions the only answer that I received, as I was tapped on the shoulder and patted on the head, was “just pray for him.”
When he died the secret of AIDS in our family died with him until I told my grandmother that I was HIV-positive and his secret was brought back to life. It was as if you spoke of it or had any questions pertaining to it then naturally you had it and therefore you were a disgrace. Never mind obtaining knowledge to inform yourself about what is going on in our world that has caused a pandemic that is affecting everyone whether they are HIV-positive or not. In some black families, you didn’t need a HIV test to determine if you were HIV-positive; all you had to do was talk about it and you were labeled.
I am tired of hearing in African-American communities that HIV is a gay person’s disease and when you tell them otherwise, then they are looking at you as if you are the one that is clueless. However, I must say that I get a kick out of informing them that HIV can be contracted by anyone who indulges in the activity of having good, wonderful, hot and steamy sex or by those who have boring sex. At that point, I tend to obtain their attention.
The point of this column is that everyone needs to become informed of their HIV status, obtain the knowledge about this disease, and become a community activist because our young people are growing up thinking that they are invincible and completely untouchable. Let your voice be heard! Become the instrument that filters the information throughout your community.
Also, there are many HIV/AIDS organizations throughout the USA that need volunteers to help expand the work that they are doing in the community. In Dallas, Texas, SAAVED has partnered with some great organizations such as Legacy Counseling Services and AIDS Arms to offer services to those who are living with HIV/AIDS. Although many organizations are collaborating in order to effectively serve the HIV/AIDS community we still need your help. You can help by volunteering to pass out pamphlets, hosting workshops, planning fundraisers, or simply giving your time and expertise. However, if you are too scared to show your face and would rather be of assistance behind the scenes, then choose an organization in your community to make a donation to. Just remember, that the HIV community needs you, our young people need to hear your voice and every community around the globe needs your words to sound off as clashing cymbals that are getting everyone’s attention.
Be the trumpet, sound the alarm, and let your voice be heard.
Tyeshia Alston is a native of Dallas, Texas, and an HIV/AIDS activist, who “will go anywhere where people will listen.” She has done everything from travel to D.C. to speak with legislators about better healthcare access and how the disease has impacted communities to serving on panels for NMAC and other organizations and bringing her message to talk shows. In 2005 at the age of twenty-five, Alston was diagnosed with HIV and she has been on a mission since 2006 to educate people (especially our youth) about HIV/AIDS. Visit www.saaved.org to learn more about her community-based work. Also, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to email Ms. Alston at [email protected].