My name is David and I am HIV-positive. When I first learned of my diagnosis in 1987, I felt terribly ashamed.
I thought I had disappointed all the people who had ever invested time in me—my teachers, mentors and friends. I thought my life was over. I was told I had a year and a half to live. Most of my peers died of AIDS, many of whom were African American. So many died, I lost count and I wondered why I was still living.
I had thoughts of suicide and was fighting depression, staying at home with the covers pulled over my head. I was ashamed to admit that I needed help to survive.
But I finally got enough courage to face the world and say “I am still alive and I plan to stay that way.” GMHC was essential in helping me. I went to GMHC for legal help and the meals program when I wasn’t eating enough. I also started volunteering. I trained to be a mentor, working with people who are newly diagnosed with HIV.
Volunteering as a mentor has been empowering because, as I lead, I am reminded about the things I need to do for myself.
I have gained so much strength from being at GMHC. I also receive a lot of support from my mother and friends. If I didn’t have supportive people around me, I would not be here today. To know someone is in your corner is essential to living. I am now able to be fearless when I talk about my diagnosis and my journey. I can see how my story affects others and I understand the power of sharing the truth.
So, when you walk the six and a half miles, tell your story. Talk about your challenges and successes--especially with the issues connected to HIV and AIDS. The best way to fight stigma is to stay vocal and visible, every day.
Your voice is needed. Your walking is needed. Your support is needed—especially for those who may be suffering in silence.
I have been living with HIV for 25 years, and I have no shame about that. I stand here today, so pleased and proud to be able to share my story and celebrate my life with you.
As Albert Einstein said, “Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.” Together we can act to end AIDS.