In the fall of 2002, while walking through the vibrant HBCU campus I attended, I heard hip hop music blaring from a huge, red, HIV/AIDS testing van.
While the music played, a small crowd gathered dancing to the tunes. I joined them and began thumbing through the informational pamphlets on a display table. On that same table were a few raffle prizes set aside for those who agreed to be tested for HIV and other STI’s.
Almost immediately a pair of white socks with purple butterflies captured my attention.
I did and said all I could think of to walk away from that table with the socks without being tested but the lady I was talking to wasn’t going for it. After about twenty minutes of small talk and unsuccessful negations I gave in and agreed to get tested. I was more afraid of the needle than I was of the possibility of testing positive.
I was told that if I didn’t hear from them in three weeks then I was fine and that I should get tested at least once a year. One week passed, two weeks passed, three weeks passed and I heard nothing.
Those were the longest three weeks of my life but that weekend I celebrated like I had won the lottery.
As I prepared to go to class the following Monday morning I received a phone call from a woman with a raspy voice who said she was calling on behalf of the health department. I questioned her about my results but she refused to answer me with a definite yes or no.
She was eerily calm which let me know something was wrong.
She then instructed me to come to the health department the next day at 9am. When I arrived I was taken into an oatmeal colored office no bigger than my bathroom. I sat in a tan metal folding chair awaiting my fate when a portly, balding white man walked in.
He explained that I tested positive for HIV and that my viral load was so high that I now had AIDS.
In that moment I collapsed, sobbing.
My first thought was how was I going to tell my younger sister and the rest of my family that I was now living with the same disease the killed my mother seven short years earlier.
I knew they would be devastated, but I also knew I couldn’t go through this alone like my mother did. She lived and suffered in silence in fear that her family might judge or ridicule her. Ultimately, she kept her sickness a secret until she couldn’t anymore, swearing my sister and me to secrecy.
By the time most of her family knew about her health we were preparing for her funeral.
I was determined to do things differently, so on the same day I was diagnosed I started telling people. I told my closest friends and my family. Although they were shocked, they were supportive. They encouraged me and assured me that I wasn’t alone.
My family has been my greatest support system.
I also have to credit my faith community for their outpouring of love and support when I publicly disclosed my status several years ago. It’s because of them that I have the strength and the courage to tell my story in hopes that I can prevent some woman or girl from contracting HIV.
The last fourteen years have been a beautiful struggle. Since being diagnosed I have earned a Bachelors and a Masters degree. I have traveled to Kenya twice and written my first book.
It’s hasn’t been easy but I have grown to love the woman I have become.
I am a woman of faith who has found her purpose in the midst of chaos and devastation. I have discovered the power of forgiveness by forgiving myself and others who have harmed me. I have even found the strength to forgive the man to sexually assaulted and infected me as a teenager.
Forgiving him freed me to become a better me.
During this journey to self-love I have encountered so much ignorance and negative stigma. I am still amazed by the number of myths and inaccurate assumptions that continue to remain about women living with HIV/AIDS. I see it as my duty to offer correct information when I hear false information being shared.
I also call out those who help drive negative stigma among women living with HIV.
The stigma around HIV/AIDS especially among Black women is a silent killer that I am committed to conquering one interview, one speech, one conversation and one article at a time.
We are not dirty nor are we the oversexed minions we’re often portrayed to be. We are mothers, sisters, wives, cousins, nieces, friends and grandmothers.
We too are #BlackGirlMagic.
To me Black Girl Magic is the mystical place where Blackness and femininity collide. It is the defiance against the boxes and labels mainstream society suggests we live in and wear.
Black Girl Magic is the ability to defy odds while achieving dreams bigger than yourself. It is loving you while loving others in the process.
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