When I think of family, well, my family. I have to acknowledge how blessed and privileged I am. In the Black community, there are just some things, most folks don’t talk about, or are able to share with their family. Being gay or HIV positive, seems to be one of those things. There are youth who have been disowned by their own families. Teenagers, who are homeless, because their parents did not know how to love their kids beyond their circumstances or in the face of them being “different.” There are people who have taken their own lives, because there was a lack of support and love from their families. It hurts my heart to think I could have been one of those people, but it also warms my heart knowing that I have a family who decided that their love for me outweighed any stigma, shame or any misconception that has ever been associated with HIV.
April 21, 2104, I was diagnosed with HIV on the campus of Sam Houston State University. I was alone, and by myself. There was only one thought that came to mind, which was, get to my mother ASAP. So before I had time to break down, and dwell in my sorrows, I hit the road, and drove three hours to tell my mom the news. I was not sure how she would react. Part of me, assumed that she would disown me or tell me that I was no longer welcomed to her house, but that was not her response.
My mother looked at me, with tears in her eyes, and said, “you have to hit the ground running. Because I refuse to bury my son, and you won’t be doing this alone. I love you, and I’m not going anywhere.” Her response gave me a sense of relief. As well as, gave me hope. I felt as though everything was going to be ok. I have my mommy in my corner and she has declared her love for me, which is what made me realize how valuable my life still was.
My mother was there from the very beginning. She drove to Houston, Texas and met me at my first Dr.’s appointment. She wanted to be there to get the same info and knowledge that he was about to give me, and she wanted to be sure that the Dr. was the best of the best. She made sure that I received the best medication that her money would buy. At that time, money was and still isn’t an issue, she did not care how much it would cost her, the only thing that mattered to her, was my life. Finding out that our insurance would cover the entire cost and that we would not have to pay a dime, was a blessing.
Months after I began treatment and was told by my Dr. that I now had an undetectable viral load, something in me kept urging me to share my story and experience with the world. Of course, me being a momma’s boy it was important for me to tell her what I wanted to do and get her opinion. She was 100 percent against it. Not because she was ashamed or anything like that, but more because she wanted to protect me. My mother was afraid of how people would treat me, if I would be able to get a job, and how the rest of my entire family would react. She didn’t want to see me hurt.
Though she fought against me sharing my experience I told her that I felt like it was what God wanted me to do. I apologized to her, because, I knew that I was going to be going against her wishes. But I had to follow what was in my heart, and do what I felt God was telling me to do. I shared my story/testimony at church. It was a packed service with well over 1,800 people there, and the reaction from the congregation, was overwhelmingly supportive and positive. There were so many people who reached out to me and thanked me for being so courageous and helping them. One lady, even stopped my mother in church and told her she was going through the same thing with her daughter, but put her out of the house and turned her back. My mother responded, “I suggest you go find her.” And she did.
Months later, my advocacy and activism took off in a huge way. People from all over the nation were calling and requesting that I come and share my story. As I went, and began engaging with communities all over, I gained knowledge and understanding in the field of public health and social justice. Last year, I was contacted by Greater Than AIDS, pitching me the opportunity to participate in a new round of their “We are Family” campaign series, featuring my mother and I. Now, because of the way my mother reacted I just knew she would not want to be a part of this, but I was wrong.
I had the pleasure of having my mother & family support me by being a part of Greater Than AIDS’s new “We Are Family” campaign docu series, that was produced by the Elton John AIDS Foundation and GTA. It has been aired on LOGO, BET, VH1 and on various channels throughout Texas and Georgia. But you can check them out here and on Huffington Post, on YouTube or at the Greater Than AIDS webpage.
Today, I challenge every family member, to love on, cherish, and support their family that has an HIV or AIDS diagnoses. Be there for them, and remind them, that their lives are valuable. Just being there for them, can be a matter of life and death, please chose life.