Words to Live By
Philadelphia Activist Asha Molock Turns Her Positive Thoughts into an Inspirational Book for People Living with HIV
by Chip Alfred
Photographed Exclusively for A&U by Freedom G Photography
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen Paul McCartney sat down to write the lyrics for the Beatles’ hit “When I’m 64,” he wasn’t imagining someone like Asha Molock. This sharp, sexy, and vibrant sixty-four-year-old defies the term “senior citizen” and refuses to dwell in the past. She isn’t looking in the rear-view mirror; she is only looking forward. Learning that she was HIV-positive, Molock says, “was not the end, it was the beginning of a whole new chapter.”
That chapter began in 2001 when the former schoolteacher found out she had contracted HIV from the man who would become her second husband. That day, Molock says, she never cried. She just rationally commenced the process of planning what to do next. “I can’t let this stop me from living,” she thought. “I know what I have to do; I’m just going to do it.” She learned all she could about HIV and met people who were dealing with the same challenges she was facing. A new vegan diet followed, as well as a fitness routine that includes swimming, tai chi, and weight training. She started on HIV medications, but she couldn’t tolerate the side effects at first. She retired from teaching after twenty-nine years to concentrate on her health. “I needed to make sure that I stayed alive to take care of my family.” (Molock is the mother of two adult children and the primary caregiver for her special needs son.) For her mental health, Molock turned to meditation. “It’s peaceful for me; it takes me places,” she says. “Sometimes you need to go within yourself to find the answers that you need.”
The one thing she didn’t do until a decade later was disclose her HIV status publicly. “My husband wanted me to keep it quiet. He was concerned people would find out he was HIV-positive. He stifled me, so I didn’t tell anybody.” Instead, she started jotting down positive thoughts. “Writing helped ease the pain. It was a way to counteract all the negativity that could be directed at me,” she reveals. “Positive thinking has helped me make the best of having HIV.” After sharing her story for an article in the Philadelphia Daily News in honor of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Molock had an epiphany. “I realized that this is not all about me. What I’m going through is much bigger than that. When you can help other people, you’re also helping yourself.” She notes that her public disclosure was a wake-up call for many of her friends and family members, who were motivated to get tested for HIV.
Since then, Molock has devoted her time and talents to various community organizations as a leading activist, educator, community organizer, and public speaker. A few years ago, she embarked on a new journey—penning her autobiography. Along the way, she encountered a slight detour. A woman she met in a writing class discovered the affirmations Molock had been writing down and
convinced her to make these the focus of her first book instead. Gaining Strength from Weakness: 101 Positive Thoughts for HIV Positive People was created to not only encourage and support people living with HIV, but also to provide food for thought and spark conversations.
“This is everybody’s book. I wanted it to be simple so that people of all ages or those who don’t even pick up a book will pick it up,” Molock explains. “I want readers to participate in my book, paste their picture in it, and write their own reflections in it. If they can find one positive thought that will help them, then I’m happy.”
The author’s impassioned introduction sets the tone for this publication:
I choose to uplift the HIV community because HIV/AIDS is the most highly stigmatized and discriminatory illness of the century. My purpose is to help add self-value to a group of people who have been so devalued by society due to having HIV. That day when I received my HIV diagnosis was the weakest point in my life. Afterwards I spent many years suffering in silence because of the stigma and shame associated with HIV. Afraid to tell anyone, I internalized all that was happening to me. I was fearful and only heard the voice inside telling me to hide and be ashamed. My life was at a standstill until I found my voice. It’s liberating to finally hear my outer voice telling me to be brave, strong, speak out and move on. It’s still not easy living with HIV but I gather my strength everyday from having positive thoughts.
Woven throughout these affirmations are several recurring themes. A&U asked Molock for her point of view on some of them:
“I was shameful; I was guilty. That was damaging to my spirit; I was so depressed. I realized that if you can survive all of that, you’re a much stronger person and nobody can take that away from you.”
“After more than thirty years in the battle against HIV/AIDS, people living with the virus are still silent and fearful of the repercussions of HIV stigma, discrimination and criminalization. We have to change the way that people see us, but we have to change the way that we see ourselves first. We need continuous support from family, friends, support groups, therapists, and each other.”
“Spirituality has been lifesaving for me. It’s what I can have trust in and what I can depend on. I can create the kind of life that I want to live by connecting with the Creator.”
“I can’t participate in anybody else’s dream anymore. I have my own. It’s important for everyone to know what path they’re on, what their purpose is. If you don’t, somebody is going to find one for you.”
“HIV got me thinking about a healthier lifestyle. It gave me the opportunity to take stock of myself and the bad relationships I had. It helped me find my self-worth and self-love.”
“Forgiveness will set you free. If you’re still holding on to the emotional pain and hurt, it’s always going to keep you in the victim mode. Not forgiving keeps you stuck in the past. You have to forgive yourself and everybody else if you want to move on.”
Molock is certainly moving on with her life. The PWN-USA Philadelphia co-chair and founder of the Women’s Empowerment & Educational Network has resumed writing her autobiography, slated for release in 2015. She continues to chronicle her positive thoughts and eagerly anticipates what her future will hold.
“Being diagnosed with HIV may have been my lowest point, but I became empowered when I realized if I can survive HIV, I can survive anything,” she declares. “Life is a spiritual journey. If I stop the journey, I stop my life. I am a living miracle. I am living proof that you can live a good life with the virus.” Amen!
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Chip Alfred is A&U’s Editor at Large and based in Philadelphia.