When I began speaking publicly about HIV/AIDS eight years ago, I thought that I was simply doing my part to educate and create awareness about a disease that had changed my life forever. I spoke at youth conferences, churches, and World AIDS Day events a few times a year. When the events ended dozens of audience members would hug me, thank me for my courage, and encourage me to continue sharing my story. I became accustomed to people who wanted to offer me their well wishes. But I was always caught off guard by the perfect strangers who would approach me and tell me their own stories of life, loved ones and HIV/AIDS. With tears in their eyes these people would disclose their own status or the status of a loved one. Some told me stories about family members whose memory died with them because AIDS was just one of those things their family didn’t discuss. One by one audience members swore me to secrecy. I always promised not to repeat anything I was told but I often wondered, Why me? Why would these people tell me, a person they had never met before, a secret they had been holding on to for decades?
The answer was simple, Truth. By telling my truth about HIV/AIDS I gave those listening to my story permission to tell theirs. Public speaking was somewhat therapeutic for me the first few times I did it. Each time I shared my story with a room full of strangers I liberated myself from the bondage of shame and guilt that tormented me soon after being diagnosed. I was well aware of the damage not disclosing my status could do after witnessing my mother live in fear and shame after being diagnosed with AIDS when I was a teen. Almost immediately after receiving a positive diagnosis I called my closest family members and a few friends. Each time I uttered the words, I am HIV+, I gained enough courage to say it again. The more I said it the easier the diagnosis became to live with.
I’ve often heard the saying “Knowledge is power” which absolutely agree with but I have found that truth is an even greater power. Facing the truth of my diagnosis has not only strengthened me but has opened the door for so many others to express their truth. My truth nudges me forward when I feel like giving up. When I’m faced with opposition, it is my truth that encourages me to fight back. It is the truth of numerous others who have triumphed despite their adversity that make telling my truth possible. In return, I tell my truth in hopes that you might find the courage to face and tell yours.