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{An HIV positive homeless activist talks about life inside city shelters, being kicked out of one for his activism, and delaying HIV treatment because he’s homeless.}

 

The shelters are like warehouses for men.  Guys who go to work have to fill out a “late return.”  And you can fill out the paperwork, but if the person on duty doesn’t put it in the proper place, you lose your bed.  While I was living in another shelter, I finished an HIV treatment education class at a local AIDS service organization and completed a building maintenance class, but it was very hard for me- that and keeping my doctor’s appointments, because I’m HIV positive.

The people who work at the shelters put everybody in a classification that comes from Narcotics Anonymous- that you can’t manage your life so somebody has to do it for you.  “You’re here, so you must have a problem.  We’re gonna strip you down and build you back up, and we’re gonna make you the man that you couldn’t be.”  They treat you like you’re on drugs, even if the problem is just that you’re having trouble with your wife, and you have a home, if you could just patch things up.  People might have mental health problems, you might have HIV,  or have had a disaster, like a fire.  But I’m 45 years old -you can’t strip me..

I think people who work in this capacity need to listen.  I would let people express themselves, and I think I would get a better response.  Rather than “shut up, let me tell you what I want you to do.”  They provoke people.  A guy could come there and be at his exceeding limit, and they’re not trained to notice anything like that.  Something could trigger him, and he goes into a rage.  I’ve seen suicides in the shelters..

Getting Kicked Out for Activism:

They want to mange your money.  You use the shelter’s address, and you can get your welfare benefits.  You pay shelter fees, and then you put most of the rest of the money into a savings plan.  A few months ago, I needed carfare to go be with my wife, but they said I had to pay those shelter fees or they were going to kick me out.  My wife has cancer.  I felt that saving money would mean nothing if my wife was to pass away.

I had to involve some higher -ups, so I talked to a gentleman at my City Coucilperson’s office.  After that, it seemed like I was on a blacklist.  Two people the next day were badgering me.  They come around in the mornings and say “get out of bed.”  I was getting dressed, and the one woman said, “I better not say nothing to him, because he’s going to tell the politicians on me.”  I didn’t say anything back.

The day I had a colonoscopy,  I went back to the shelter and they had cut my locks, packed up everything and had it in a big tub, and said,  “You’re out of here.”  A person comes into the shelter with all they own, their worldly possessions.  And I said, ” Look, I’ve got this note from my doctor,  I need to rest,” but they kick me out.  I had to lift my belognings.  They said,  “We feel that you’d be better suited somewhere else.”  The present place I’m at, it’s cold as ice.  It’s a gymnasium.  This is just for the winter initiative-  It’s going to dissolve at the end of the month.

Living with HIV in the Shelters:

I’m putting off going on HIV medicaton because I’m in a shelter.  At this point, my CD4 count is getting pretty low.  Every month, my doctor says, “You’re going to have to go on it either way, but I think we could hold off.”  The problem is, if I started a regimen and wasn’t consistent with taking it, I’d have to start on something else.  I was reprimanded for keeping my depression medicaton in my locker.  They hold your medication.  One time, I said, “Miss, I really need my medication.”  She got on the phone, and it seemed like a personal phone call.  Then she says,  “Okay, okay, in a minute.  I forgot about you, wait ’til I come back.”  So I went out the door, because I had to make an appointment.  Had I been on HIV meds, I probably would have blown my regimen.  See, that would aide in you forgetting to take your medicine at all..

Sometimes my medication has been stolen, and we would suspect by the staff, because they had access to it.  Most of the staff are ex-addicts.  They forget where they come from and return back to where they were, in their state of mind.  I was told that certain meds go for $5 per pill.  One time, at another shelter, I came down with scarlet fever and went the hospital.  When I got back, I never got my medicaton back.  It was like the second or third time, and the Medicaid HMO wouldn’t replace it.  Had I been on HIV meds, that would have messed me up.  It’s not made for a person who has to adhere to taking their meds on a regular.

There’s so much unprofessionalism, it’s a shame.  I’m trying to protect my anonymity, because nothing’s confidention in the shelter.  People sometimes are caring, but you’ve got some people that are just plain old mean.  If their way to hurt somebody is to let their buiness out, then they’ll do that.  That could crush somebody.  These people that work there, they gossip.  And you could be sitting right there and overhear what they say about people.  When you take your meds, the way it’s supposed to be is that only one person is allowed in the room, so nobody knows what your’re taking, but it’s not like that.  People are standing right there.  I don’t even think they go by HIPPAA {Patient Confidentiality } laws.

They didn’t try to gear me to any programs for people living with HIV.  As a matter of fact, I took one of the HIV resource guides to my case manager, but I just got the feeling that she took it and put it under somewhere.  After that, I felt like the other case managers knew my status.

There was a guy- I haven’t seen him- I think he passed, just maybe a few weeks ago. His name was Jerome, and I think the guys looked out for him pretty good.  That really hit me close to the heart, because I’m HIV positive, and I would guess that he was at a really bad stage of the virus.  A shelter like that is no place for a person like that.  He was so frail you had to help him get dressed.  I dream about the magnitude of this thing, and it gets me really choked up that people have to suffer like that.

Solidarity and Organinzing Among Homeless People..

People become homeless, and at that time, the barriers drop and we come together and help each other, It’s amazing.  You really need a belt, and a guy takes the belt off his waist if you’ve got an interview or something.  It’s not the shelter giving you clothes-   It’s other guys giving you clothes.  It feels good when guys in the shelter say, “How’s your wife doing?  Is she getting around alright?”  These are guys that, if you looked at them, you’d never think they had it in them like that- big, tough guys.  Your’re all depressed, but you’re sitting in there, but you find something to laugh about.  I guess that’s what lets you know you’re still alive.

Most of the shelters, they’re going to be making them leave soon, because they’re refurbishing and old hotel (Loraine Divine Hotel) to make condominiums around the corner from one of them, so that shelter’s not going to be there in a couple of years.

During the mayoral election, I went out with a local advocacy group and got people to vote.  We had a homeless rally at City Hall, Got the cadidates to come out, and shot some questions at them.  The only idea they had was transitonal housing.  If it’s privately run, that’s like a slumlord.  You’re going from living with a bunch of men to living with fewer men.  If you had your own little room, in a sense you’d have your self again.  In order for people to take care of themselves mentally and physically, be nourished, take their medicine, you name it, every person should have a home.  That’s just one of your rights.

I’ve got to be with my wife.  I want to have my granddaughters over and play with them on the floor.  Without all that, I’m like this fourth class citizen,  I have no sense of belonging, in a place that gets paid for me to sign my name, but I can’t stand in front of the building.  They say, “Go walk down the street.”  Well, all of us stay here.  But it’s like I’m some kind of protester when I open my mouth, Because I know enough to go and see somebody, they were like “Oh, we don’t want him, because if what he’s got is catching, we’ll be in real trouble.”  But that’s what they need.  You can’t be a lone activist and have some punch…

(This article was written about my experience in 2008 since then my wife has died in 2009 I have been housed and have remarried)

Now ask me about the housing situation for people with HIV, or anyone?

5162671878_7850a4d44b_z  if your not part of the solution you are part of the problem…

 

 

A HUMBLE PRAYER

african-american-woman-praising-11696929
I awoke this morning finding a great need for prayer more than any other day, because of an atmosphere because our world is in deep pain.
Racism and it’s ugly face, a demon of America’s soiled past
I pray that individually we all find the urgent time to have a talk with Jesus..
Tell him all about our troubles, if need be have him walk with us because we fear we might act out or if only to cover you to keep you safe.
I had those dreams last night again; my spirit knows we are living atop a powder keg because at present we know our youth are in limbo and on the edge.
Though our church pews have been empty we must find a way to call in the Lords sheep, the shepherds have a job to do, the saints have their part to play, but in all we must return to that era and power of extended family relationship.
Unite or we shall lose any balanced footing at this narrow point of passage.
Visions of King Jesus and Dr. King the level of tolerance and staying power these two exhibited, swirl through my mind’s eye, the message is we must have more.
We know our positions, for some we don’t know our gifts
I humbly suggest we ask for direction and guidance.
A prayer can and is the simplest conversation one can have with our Lord and savior. Tell him what you need, expose what you fear ask him to give you strength, the type of prayer is not an issue of black or white we must all pray as a collective in order to get positive results in return.
Prayer for the lives lost never forget what each of them were to this world, allow their deaths to unite the children of God in efforts to comfort one another and protect if need be. We must be watchful and responsible in making a call of judgement, during these times we have to be direct.
The adversary will not announce his arrival, because he knows he can be thwarted and destroyed by just the call of the name Christ Jesus.
Today and everyday just call his name when and where ever it is loudly or in whisper throughout the days, just to let him know his children sincerely need his love and protection
Amen.

cliffwms44

Characteristics of Prayer..

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the Christian’s native air,
His living, vital breath;
He needs its tonic everywhere,
To lack, brings spirit death.
Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That any soul can try;
Its fervent, contrite pleas can reach
The Majesty on high.

James Montgomery

 

 

 

The Whole World is Lost

If Jesus is the light of the world and sunlight conquers darkness, I stop and wonder; does the light of the world shine like the sun shines on the souls of every man everywhere?  From the beginning up until present; the reality has been in order for us to live, some of us must die.

An example unless I turn on the lights in my house at night , I can not see where I am going.  I would not be able to see the obstacles that are or maybe in my path.  I now risk falling because I cannot see.  I compare not being able to see with being lost in the woods.

Hope inside education – I put my faith in education, it is the only truth which has set a people free, free from fear, hate, prejudice: they are witches, who have ridden their brooms wildly through time from history to present.  The producers of ignorance, prejudice and hate, which created wars.

Taking a look at the nature of Human Social problems civilization is complex and changing, even primitive society had its problems but it inherited age old problems, such as war,disease and poverty.  Social problems that arise from a conflict of interest between groups or individuals Human wants are unlimited but natural resources are limited, this is a reality..

So one day in this world that God created and rested on the Sabbath, after the rape of a planet of its life resources what will we do then?

Often I think of that a segment of people are preparing to venture into space to leave this earth, never to return.  Will that be a prejudiced action, because only those who are able to afford the trip will get to go to the new world…

Americans must make no mistake about what we face in this HIV/AIDS epidemic, fueled by the poverty, social inequality and institutionalized racism.  What we knew long ago is seen with more clarity, in the face of just talks of budget cuts, that target indirectly those once deemed undesirables and being African American far more than any other racial ethnic group in this country.  While we Constitute somewhere around 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for more than 4o per cent of the people living with HIV in the United States.  The most marginalized among us are the most at risk and in the cross-hairs.  What is truly Unacceptable is the mind set of balancing a budget on the backs of the poor, that page torn straight out of the Ronald Reagan reverse Robin-hood playbook.

A new administration with talks of making America great, but how do you become great by appointing sour losers  to amass a team to make America great, the only winner I see is Donald Trump because in the face of the non-believers,  he ran his race and won, those others he has selected were weak horses running a race with a separate agenda; so now I am to think they hold our country’s best interest in mind in the making this America great.  If I checked the wallets of those now appointed most notable  if they had any part in the government shutdown, I would shed them like a snake does his skin.

What is most important to me is, we cannot go back in time, where people were dying because of lack of care or empathy to provide care, because mentally America is still at war with a disease that has had this country involved in for the last 35 years, whatever gains we have, could soon be lost because of new and different ideas.  We must see that we have gained some strongholds on this disease over its existence.  We must understand what is right and what is wrong at this time, because like a stone thrown into a still pond of water the ripple effect can be the catastrophic.  I understand that with this new administration I don’t know where they stand because it was not talked about how vital Americans living with HIV need access to care and treatment, it was not discussed about Housing being prevention health care and supports well-being…  With not one candidate did I hear or I just can’t recall, So now in the making of the great America that stands for all her people, where can I count my rights to life?

I am not asking for a handout, I am asking for a hand in making America Great.  How could America be made great when we are still throwing African American or blacks overboard in order to stay a float as if we’re still crossing the middle passage?

If the government stopped  paying for my HIV/AIDS medication what would happen?

Well for one this virus that has been suppressed for the last 12 years, would now spread and infect various parts of my body.  And if my immune system could not fight off the attack by the virus, my death would soon come..  Once you start HIV/AIDS medication it cannot be stopped or the virus will run free range throughout a person’s system and it is not a pretty sight…  So stopping the access to care and treatment on any level the HIV/AIDS virus will come roaring back much like the early part of the epidemic HIV does not just affect me, it affects our families, friends and loved ones…

 

Soft sunsets blowing trees.

Birds soaring through the breeze.

Clouds so full that move with grace, peaceful and calm at a slow steady pace.

Observing the land so vast and wide.

A beautiful creation once filled with pride.

But looking back I no longer see.

All of the things that mean so much to me.

Absorbing the facts within my mind.

I see destruction of all mankind.

My people are turning against one another, begging, borrowing, robbing and stealing.

Poverty, lust, hatred and greed; living by a deadly and sinful creed.

A mother to be takes a hit that keeps her coming back.

Her baby is born addicted to the crack.

Children suffering in a world of disaster, please save them Oh Heavenly Master.

The government controls everyone’s life, making our struggles one useless fight.

Supplying the dealers with one phone call, feeding us drugs, one and all.

Can we rise above this disaster?

We can with the help of our Heavenly Master…

Our Being A Commodity

Many of us African Americans aren’t aware of the world around us, and how public policy has become the integral tool in controlling our environment.  You are where you are today, in terms of your finances , your family situation and your intellectual credentials, because government wanted you there.  They put you there.  The ghetto was manufactured Blacks living in the hood are no different from hamsters running on treadmills or mice trying to find their way out of a maze in a laboratory.

The place that you and I call home is an experiment.  Why do we live in “Projects”  The word project by definition means a plan, plot or scheme.

How is it possible the Black people are spread all over the world , but we are all in the same miserable situation from South Africa to South Side Jamaica Queens?  Twenty- four million people are infected with AIDS in Africa.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, guess who has the highest rate of HIV infection in the United States, after homosexuals?

Black women of course some of the women will eventually sleep with Black men and pass the disease on… ( it’s not impossible)

Why is that ?  Is it a coincidence?  Why is that just in the Twentieth Century alone 1.5million sudanese Africans were killed in war, 800,000 kill in Rwanda, 70,000 killed in Algeria, 200,000 killed in Liberia and the list goes on and on..

Why is it that thousands of us Africans trapped  in America are killed every day of every week of every month of every year in every ghetto?  How does the cycle of pimps, hustlers, killers and drug users repeat itself wherever there are brown faces?  They would have you believe  that we are just irresponsible, lazy animals; but I say we are systematically being destroyed by the same powers that put us in chains and brought us here.

Blacks  in every ghetto in America can tell the same stories.  We shoot the same kind of weapons on the same kind of corners and we lose the same family and friends to the same ghetto nonsense.  We smoke and sniff the same so called drugs; drinking the same liquor, some of us getting the same food stamp card and ask yourself why?  Let’s think about how this new form of slavery began,  How did the American Machine trick us back into submission after we thought we had overcome.

 

In the morning ‘s chill, I go in my backyard and what do I hear?  The voice of a woman talking and all alone, walking down the street.

I stood there watching and listening; only to hear her loud conversation trying to rebuke, what I have named “The Silent Terminator” called crack addiction…

I could hear her talking about how she messed up, I could hear her talk and tell Satan to leave her alone;  she said ,  “I Love My Kids,   I don’t want to get high no more, stop messing with me.”

It was only then when she looked up and saw me standing atop my back steps, where I stand every morning and give thanks and pray.

“She saw me and asked,  “Mr. did you hear me?”  I said “yes,”

I said sister, I been there, listen you’re not alone.”  She began to tell me of maybe one horrible episode that entailed Rescue personnel and a heart -broken mother, she began to cry at the mere mention of her kids…..  My heart dropped an rose up.

There but for the Grace of God, go I> had blurbed through my mind like a cartoon bubble.

We began to talk through the fence.  But it was then when my upstairs neighbor screamed out his window and shouted rudely..   “KEEP IT MOVING!”

He knows my voice and I shouted back , “We Are Talking.”  I guess the tone in my voice made him change,  I don’t play with my empathy for human life.

Yeah,  it set me off.

In a flash he appeared offering gifts like sparkling cider and something else.   He never made eye contact to me and to me he never said a word.

I could see she was not homeless or in need of that; she needed to know that she was not alone, and I guess the Lord brought her by my way to say.

“Don’t give up…. Stop beating yourself up.”

 

Because but for the Grace of God, go I…

 

 

I am an African American father, husband,son,brother and grandfather;at age 46 living in the epidemic of HIV/AIDS and STI’s.  April 27,2003  was a birthday  I’ll never forget, when I tested positive for HIV and my life took a change in purpose- to work in efforts to erase the damage done by government.

 

Black America: Present numbers support evidence that the U.S. government neglected HIV/AIDS as a priority when it allowed an epidemic to become a pandemic that has killed more than 25 million people around the world since 1981.

In the 1980’s. When Ronald Reagan was president, America began its campaign of misinformation by sending out reports that AIDS was a disease of gay white males.  They used misleading labels like “Gay-Related Immune Disease (GRID). ”  Still in the cross-hairs  as targets, the mostly white gay population rallied as activist.  The stigma that hung over people with the virus fermented separation in families, and the U.S.

Government was considering quarantine and forced tattooing of HIV positive  people.  People with AIDS died because drug companies, governments, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blocked new drugs and clinical trials.  Women fought for testing, because new medicines were only tested in men.  Protesters invaded the New York Stock Exchange, mostly about the price of antiretroviral drugs being $8,000 to $10,000 a year.

Now documents show that more Blacks are living with HIV/AIDS in the United States than in seven of the 15 African and Caribbean countries served by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  If Washington D.C. was a country, it would be ranked#11 in a list of the countries with the highest HIV rates in the world.

 

Conservatives like George W. Bush and churches who shared some of his ideas on how to prevent HIV left America Spinning its wheels while AIDS activist fought for educational tools for our junior high and high school aged youth.  Neglect in this area saw a steadily rising rate of HIV among youth that widened the scope of the epidemic.  If you just say “abstinence- only” and there are no condoms in the schools, you’re fermenting stigma against people living with HIV.

As many as 60% of people with HIV have experienced homelessness or unstable housing (stay on someone’s couch, where a person could be kicked out).  We need housing as an HIV prevention measure.  One way that having a home can prevent HIV is as protection from sexual coercion.  Homeless people are often targeted for reasons of their vulnerability.  As a homeless male, I have been approached by other males who offered me a place to stay if I would have sex with them.  The same thing happens to women.  There are people in this world who take advantage of situations in which they hunger for control.  They see you with all these bags, and they see that your’re vulnerable.  If you had sex with another man and you didn’t want to, that’s a trauma, just like having sex with anyone when you don’t want to causes trauma.  And that’s a decision that could affect the course of your life, if a condom is not used.

The ban on people with HIV/AIDS coming into the United States isn’t keeping us safe-it’s our prevention messages that keep us safe.  We should allow immigrants to have the quality of care they can’t get in places like Mexico or Africa.  It’s an exclusionary rule, and that’s  not right.

November 20th, 2008: Activist from ACT UP,the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and other groups, rallied in force on a cold day in November in Washington D.C.  Activist, HIV positive and negative alike demanded the attention of president -elect Barack Obama, with most urgency, to act on our last chance to devise a universal- not just national -strategy for this HIV/AIDS Pandemic.  The number of people who came out, the number of buses we came with, means that we’re reaching a lot of people with our message.  It felt like we’ve achieved something, come a few steps closer to getting Washington to take notice of a few things.

HIV positive people need to speak out more.  More straight people like me need to voice their stories and get involved in activism.  Heterosexuals tend to stay low key because they don’t want to expose their status.  When I was first diagnosed I thought it was a death sentence, I thought I had to be like an ostrich and put my head in the sand.  My family thought they’d be infected by using the same toilet.  But I realized the power of being around people like myself.  It molded me into a certain type of person someone who speaks up about injustice.  It’s made me have a lot of compassion for what people in general go through.

My hope for the AIDS movement is to cross the lines of race and gender, taking a lesson from this election.  In order to get that man elected, people- Black, white,Asian- had to get together on something.  I don’t know if its his upbringing, being cross-cultural, but Obama inspires hope.  He won’t be able to satisfy everyone who comes at him.  But the HIV/AIDS epidemic has to be made a priority, by the government and by all of us, because our future is at stake.

I believe it was spirit-led, spirit-bred on that day when I sat with my then new Pastor Paul J. Thomas of A.M.E. Union Church, inside his office – just he and I.   A.M.E. Union is a historic church in North Philadelphia, rich in history, both black history and my family history.  Both sides of my family comprise much of the congregation.

I was only there to interview for a janitorial position.  It really had no place, but from somewhere deep in my soul I gave it a place:  I, Clifford A. Williams, disclosed my positive HIV status to the pastor of my church.  Not having any fears of stigma or shame, because the Holy Spirit told me the time was right- in the church world where myth and misinformation give life support to stigma and so very much keep it alive.

Testing Positive.

In April 2003 on my birthday, I found out my status.  The news would send me into a tailspin, a grieving process, for some time.  Wanting to delete myself from the earth was a passing thought.

The voice of my grandmother would encourage me to walk on by faith; I would have these dreams of,yes, being HIV+ but truly making a difference.  My dreams were so vivid that at times I would a waken confused, asking, “But how?”

Finding a Ministry

I remember that day in Pastor’s office sharing my status and hearing him say to me, “Cliff, it sounds like HIV/AIDS is your ministry.”  That impacted me-it was now clear what my mission was.  That even before becoming HIV+ I been cast in a role to educate, to dispel myth and misinformation.

Some time before that, in 2007, I had been steered to Philadelphia FIGHT, because as my doctor told me, I had too many questions.  In a nice way, she referred me to Philadelphia FIGHT, telling me that they had an AIDS education class there called Project TEACH.  From the very first day I walked through the doors of FIGHT, I know that I was being tested, tested to see how strong my faith was and how deeply I trusted that Jesus would continue to walk with me on this journey.  So many things happened when I first found out my status-some of which made clear sense, a lot of which made no sense.

I must say that HIV has allowed me to look at my life with clarity.  Let me put it this way: It has not been a curse.  HIV has given me the ability to step out of my life and look at my life then step back into my life and live my life.

Being given the tools, bit by bit, to complete my mission, often I would wonder, “Why am I meeting this person or that person?”  only to find that more would be revealed.

I was educated, then empowered, through Philadelphia FIGHT’s Project TEACH outside and Project TEACH.  John Bell, who taught TEACH Outside, and countless others both past and present that I have met encouraged me to go on.

Building Support Networks

I look back at my struggles of being HIV positive, being homeless and separated from my wife- who passed from the virus just weeks away from my graduation of Project TEACH-and I remember the great support of my classmates.  They imprinted permanently in my heart on the magic of what an AIDS education can do on so many levels for the person infected, in knowing  you’re not alone.  I came away from it with this: Empathy is a part of everyone’s character; we all possess it, but so very few of us use it.

My classmates were there in person or via phone call letting me know that I was not alone, that they were there with me each step of the way.  Once, while walking on Market Street, I got a phone call from a classmate named Jeff.  He and I had gotten close, and on one occasion, he drove my wife to a relative’s house for her to visit them.  As I took the call, he asked if I was coming to class.  That brought me back to sanity, because, as he explained, ” You only have a couple of classes left.”  I know my peers thought well of me.  I liked the class, so I went to class and received hugs and condolences.  It was strength; it gave me a sense of belonging.

Those very same support  networks exist in my life today, made stronger and larger by inclusion of my church family, biological family and friends.                                                            I was garnering the armor I would need in this war.  AIDS education and empowerment enabled me to develop a tougher skin.  I was still human, still infected, and still affected with many of the issues associated with being heterosexual, African American and male in the church.  I guess I was going against the grain and what the statistics say – I am the voice that says otherwise.  I am the father, grandfather and widower whose identity reads differently on what my role is, being a member of society, my community and church.  In 2013 I joined a social action ministry to present on various social issues at my church.  As someone HIV+ being secure in my status, I was asked to present on HIV/AIDS.

At the Pulpit

On December 1,2013, I presented. I had written things down to say, but when I stepped up into the church’s pulpit, I leaned over to Pastor Paul first and said, ” Are they ready?” Pastor nodded, as if saying, ” It’s all yours.”                                                                                           I stepped up to the rostrum, fixing the microphone, and the congregation went crazy.          I joked, ” You folks are crazy Christians!” with a smile.                                                                     I stated my name and said,  “Do you feel it!  Do you feel it!”  This force was shooting through my body.  I said, ” This is groundbreaking, because so many churches are on the fence about HIV/AIDS- to share this on World AIDS Day!”                                                                      The congregation just roared.  I allowed them to settle, and inside me was this confirmation that the time was right.

I  spoke on how you can’t have AIDS without first having HIV.  I said, “I am honored to share on this topic, because the very zip code- 19122-in which this church sits has one of the highest  prevalence rates of reported AIDS cases here in Philadelphia.  I said “You can’t tell that a person has HIV, because looks are no indicator.” I began to explain that no one is going to raise their hand and say they are HIV+, for fear of rejection.  We must be unafraid to open a dialogue on HIV/AIDS in our homes, schools, churches and social groups.I said then,  ” I am HIV positive and have been infected for some 11 years now.”  There was silence.  I began telling the story of finding out, on my birthday, being tested by a man who knew my wife was positive and had attended my wedding.  This is how small this said-to-be-great-big-world really is..  But that’s how God works.  Jesus gave his life for me, and by his stripes I am able.

I sacrificed my own anonymity so that others would know the facts.  Among these facts are that when people have any kind of unprotected intercourse, be it anal, oral or vaginal, each act holds a different level of risk.  I talked about stigma and how there were two kinds of stigma.                                                                                                                                                                  Stigma is both inward and outward.  Inward stigma is, for a person with the virus, a fear of the unknown, feeling less than.  (Still as I gazed from the pulpit, as everyone’s eyes were on me, listening, I could pick out those who had possibly put themselves at risk)                     Some felt the need to leave the chapel, as if an urge to go to the restroom had hit.  Being a person who understands being newly diagnosed and how you feel so alone, I continued speaking: ” I said, ‘why me? I went through a denial, feeling as if the test was wrong.  I thought to myself ‘ Look at me!”                                                                                                                  I said, Satan’s best work is to cast doubt and fear into your life, to leave you all alone with your own thoughts.  One of the first things that comes out of our mouths is, ‘Oh my God.’   Well, church, I am here to tell you, people  with HIV need a healing also!” I used a fact that I had heard:” Jesus would walk up to someone with leprosy , touch them, and sit and talk with them; he did not wear surgical gloves or a surgical mask.”  The Congregation clapped and stood to their feet, shouting , ” Preach!”

I then said, ” I had some things written down, but the spirit said,  ‘It’s OK.  I flung the papers to the side- one sheet falling to the floor, not far away.                                                         I spoke from  the inner soul on this virus and what it had done to me, changing my life from meaningless to purposeful.                                                                                                                       “There is so much to say about HIV,”  I said.  ” You know, condoms are not 100%, but it is our best weapon if we really must indulge in intercourse.  This is what I do as a peer educator outside these church doors.  I go into the charter schools speaking to 8th graders, because their numbers are high.  I tell them to wrap it up!  But understand, up against diseases like herpes, syphilis and HPV- these are contracted via skin-to-skin contact, so condoms are not as protective against them.  These three diseases can also be a vehicle in which a person could transfer HIV.  And being real, anything you can catch below the waist can infect a person and end up in your mouth, or it may show up on your face.  But even then, say with herpes,  even if there is not a sore or canker present, you may still transmit this virus to your partner.”

I was then signaled to be mindful of time, so I said, “A wedding band is not a condom, so that won’t keep you safe. So with that, my church family, I will end with this: There is no such thing as safe sex- we can only make use of the prevention tools: condoms, both male and female, and dental dams (latex barriers).                                                                                          “Thanks for allowing me to share.”                                                                                                            I stepped down from the rostrum to applause,screams and hugs.                                                    This was my second confirmation that peer education is vital in educating and erasing stigma about HIV/AIDS in the Church.  Because the same folks who grace those church pews from Sunday to Sunday need to be armed with what will allow them to have safer options.

Today, I am very proud of my church and ministerial staff for allowing me to speak on HIV.  I was even more proud that my assistant Pastor, Rev. Gloria Walker, who has always supported me, reached out and enrolled in the then-pilot Faithful Teach class and completed the 6-week course, designed to educate faith leaders of all faiths on HIV/AIDS.    I was later appointed director of the A.M.E. Union HIV/AIDS ministry, Balm in Gilead, now in the process of putting together its first program.

So tell me that the Lord does not work in a mysterious kind of way.

None of this would be if Jesus did not die for me……………………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLOCKS IN HEAVEN

A man died and went to heaven.  As he stood in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, he saw a huge wall of clocks behind him.

He asked, “What are all those clock?” St. Peter answered,  ” Those are Lie- Clocks.”

“Oh said the man, “whose clock is that?”

“That’s Mother Teresa’s.  The hands have never moved, indicating that she never told a lie.”

“Incredible,” said the man.  “And whose clock is that one?”

St. Peter responded, ” That’s Abraham Lincoln’s clock. The hands have moved twice, telling us that Abe told only two lies in his entire life. ”

Where’s President Bush’s clock?”  Asked the man.

“Bush’s clock is in Jesus’ office.  He’s using it as a ceiling fan.”

 

 

 

 

 

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