by Ty Andrews
Every year on December 1st, people around the world come together to observe World AIDS Day. It's a day dedicated to remembering those we have lost to HIV/AIDS, raise awareness and show support for over 38 million people currently living with the virus.
I want to share something personal with you. This year marks a significant milestone for me as it has been 25 years since I was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. While suffering in silence for years, my journey has been filled with hard life lessons, but also fueled with hope and resilience.
In 1998, I was a Florida A&M University graduate in Tallahassee, Florida and filled with aspirations. Little did I know months later, life had another plan in store for me. Even though I had previously tested negative at a school clinic, I didn’t get tested frequently because I knew how to use condoms and I didn’t “look sick.” As time went on, I woke up many nights drenched in sweat and dealing with what felt like the flu. I knew deep inside being sick this time felt different. However, I denied it and self-diagnosed having bronchitis that was already spreading around town. While on a road trip to Miami with friends, I collapsed to my knees in a shopping mall unable to breathe. It was the first time in my life I had experienced needing urgent care with the likelihood of having to go to the hospital. Terrified while in the emergency room, I was welcomed by an intake nurse who while examining me then said, “God is working on you”.
I had developed Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) in my right lung. At the doctors request to test for HIV, I received my test results confirming that I was positive. Weighing 128 lbs with a T-cell count of 6, I felt myself weakening in the hospital bed while in disbelief. The news hit me like a thunderbolt. I felt betrayed, as if my life was stolen from me. I was afraid and resented whoever did this to me to have a death sentence at age 23. I resented HIV controlling my fate and I felt less important compared to other patients whose medical conditions weren’t as feared.
I got good grades throughout my school life and had always been an overachiever, however I feared the rejection I saw other men affected by the virus experience within gay and black communities. Eventually, I developed self-judgment that I was being punished by God. My previous efforts in being a decent person wasn’t good enough. I had become a danger to the world.
According to studies, Black/African-Americans make up 13% of the US population, however, over 42% are living with HIV/AIDS compared to White/Latino populations. Black/African heterosexual women, including Black transgender women, are also amongst the highest populations affected by the virus.
HIV/AIDS doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care about your age, your gender, your dreams or your career. I learned the hard way it can affect anyone, even to a “preacher kid” like me.
Did it affect my relationships? Absolutely. How could I fully give and receive love in any capacity while feeling undeserving and ashamed of my own existence? I began to identify my worth with my career choices and sought validation through my talent and simply being the hardest worker. In turn, these false beliefs contributed to unhealthy boundaries and lack of understanding self-care.
This years World AIDS theme is “Let communities lead.” It was through organizations like Big Big Cares who offered me compassion, case management and supportive services. Anti-viral meds costed thousands of dollars and there were many regulations to become eligible for health coverage. I was drowning in hospital bills.
My support system consisted of family, loved ones and close friends who believed in me. My mother got the news and flew down to Miami where I was diagnosed. I was nervous to have “the speech” with her. When I told her about my HIV/AIDS status, she simply replied, “There’s nothing God can’t fix”. From then on ignited an inner strength and will to live that I didn’t know I had.
While in recovery, I prayed, read the Bible and ate whatever I wanted to gain weight while starting medical treatment-I received a gift from a dear friend in San Francisco who introduced me to Marianne Williamson’s book, “A Return to Love”. It was my first peek into the self-help world and understanding self-acceptance. My mother’s unwavering faith along with the love and support of my community allies was the spark of hope I needed to keep moving forward.
Today, my HIV status is undetectable, and my life and career journey seems to have come full circle. I now oversee PR/Marketing to address homelessness and poverty in LA and help those in need tell their own story. No matter your struggle, I believe we intuitively “help others like ourselves” heal.
By sharing my story, I encourage you to remember that everyone has a story. Every person deserves to be treated with compassion and have access to resources that empowers overall health and stability. Black health matters. This is a call to action to get beyond stereotypes and back to kindness. HIV/AIDS does not define me, nor does it define anyone else living with it. I don’t care anymore what others think or say about me, because it’s my work to live authentically and follow my own path.
So, when you see me dance with a smile on my face, know it’s because I remember a time when I had to learn how to walk again. When you hear me sing, know that I sing because it makes me happy-I sing in gratitude knowing there was once a time in my life when I had to learn how to breathe again.
There have been many advances in HIV/AIDS treatment and preventive care since the early days of the epidemic, however the work isn’t over. Do your part. Normalize sexual health. Get tested. Raise awareness and donate to your local charities. Tell your story. Be kind. To see true progress in our communities, together we must address homophobia, transphobia, systemic racism and demand health equity for all.
So, on this World AIDS Day 2023, I break my silence and ask you to join me in eradicating HIV/AIDS for good.
Here’s to life!
Resources that could offer support for those affected by HIV/AIDS:
1. The National AIDS Hotline - Provides information, resources, and support for individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
Visit the National AIDS Hotline website at:
https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/hiv-aids-101/national-hiv-testing-day or call their hotline at 1-800-232-4636.
2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Offers extensive information on HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and support services.
Find more details on the CDC website:
3. The HIV/AIDS Bureau - Part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), providing comprehensive care and support services for individuals affected by HIV/AIDS. Visit their website here: https://hab.hrsa.gov/
4. The AIDS.gov website - Offers a range of resources and information on HIV/AIDS, including testing and treatment options, support services, and the latest research. Explore their website: https://www.aids.gov/
5. The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) - Provides educational resources, support services, and advocacy for black individuals affected by HIV/AIDS.This organization focuses on addressing the specific needs of black communities and offers culturally tailored support and resources. Visit their website at: https://nblca.org/
Remember to always verify the information provided on these websites and ensure they meet your specific needs!