So remember when I said I was going to involve more individuals and their stories on HIV, LGBTQ issues, or anything they want to sound off about? Well National Black HIV AIDS Awareness Day is here and I am proud to present to you a blog by my friend and colleague Kemisha.
Before I became involved in the field of HIV/AIDS, I thought I knew all there is to know about it. I knew it was something you could get through having sex or by IV drug use and it was something you wanted to avoid. I believed that if you did have it meant that you were being reckless with your body and did it to yourself. I always saw it as you made a mistake with your sexual activity and now you have to deal with it. I was fortunate enough to go to schools, especially a high school where comprehensive sexual education was taught. I will say that even though I knew the do’s and don’ts of sex, that doesn’t mean that I always made the best decisions for myself. Yes, I knew that HIV/AIDS was something that was really out there but I also felt as if it was something that would never happen to me. I had that feeling of being invincible, a feeling that I think a lot of teenagers had at that time. When I think back to that time frame I will say that I did take a lot of risk. I wasn’t running around having sex with multiple partners but the person I did chose to have sex with, we never had the conversation about our sexual history. We never asked each other “have you ever been tested for HIV”, “when was your last STD screening”. It was more like we just believed that if there was something to be told that the person would say it. Now that I look at it, that is a scary thought. By not choosing to ask those questions and trusting that person with my body, I was taking a chance with my body and my life every single time.
When I went to college, I started as an Athletic Training major and loved it. Two and half years into the program I realized that I no longer had the passion for it, I wanted to change my major but still be involved in Health. My professor recommended the Health Promotion program to me. It was there in that program I became very interested in HIV/AIDS. I began volunteering with the Wellness, Alcohol, and Violence Education Services (WAVES) office at George Mason University. The first program I helped with was the HIV/AIDS awareness week and from there I became hooked. I took a class called Interventions on Populations at Risk. I chose to do and intervention for high school teenagers geared toward sexual education to help lower the high rates of teen pregnancy. After that course I had to take a course in Research Methods, I took the information I gathered in the previous class and took it a step further for this one. My final research paper for undergraduate degree was based on whether sexual education courses had an effect on the actual sexual activity of teenagers.
In order to complete undergrad I needed to complete 400hrs of a health related internship. The first internship was all set and ready to go and at the last minute the organization lost the funding to host and intern. I then came across Fredericksburg Area HIV/AIDS Support Services (FAHASS). They decided to take me on as an intern and it was a perfect fit because this was the field I definitely wanted to work in. While interning here I learned so much information that I didn’t know. From understanding what exactly HIV does once it’s inside your body, to what the experience of having an HIV test done is, even an understanding and different out look on what its like for people living with HIV. I have learned about the services people that are living with HIV are eligible for that I had no clue about before interning here. My eyes were opened to so many things that I had no idea of; it showed me that there is always more to learn and not everything on the surface is the whole story. It allowed me to see that everyone’s story is different and you cant generalize people in the same category.
I was fortunate enough to receive a part time position with FAHASS and then eventually a full time position as a Prevention Specialist after my internship with them. I now do testing under the Care and Prevention of the United States grant (CAPUS). This specifically focuses on African Americans and Latinos. Now that I am out there in the field-testing, it is eye opening. In the rural community of Fredericksburg that I work in, I have seen how uneducated people are on the topic of HIV. Some people have no idea what HIV even stands for and it amazes me that this happens especially when there are so many resources for them to receive that information and begin to process and understand it. It feels good when I am able to give people information on HIV and see that they are interested in what I am saying. They are learning and becoming informed about it. I can only hope that they are passing on this new knowledge to others because it is something that needs to be shared with others.
Every day I learn something new being with this organization and it is only growing my knowledge base of HIV/AIDS. If I do not know something I have no problems asking questions because I believe that the more I know the better equipped I am to help educate people about HIV/AIDS and give them the tools to help make better decisions for themselves. Eventually my ultimate goal is to help work on the different HIV/AIDS initiatives in the Caribbean. They are doing the best they can with what they have now and I commend than for all their efforts but I feel that more could be done. They really need to break into the communities and push outreach and testing and having those conversations but it is very hard to do that when there is still such high stigma associated with HIV and such strong stances against things such as, homosexuality. These walls need to be broken down in order to effectively provide the best outreach, prevention and care services to the people of these islands and their communities.
Kemisha is currently the prevention specialist at FAHASS, and just like many of us in prevention is continuing to learn more about the field every single day. If you are interested in sharing your story with Pozlifeofpatrick.com email firstname.lastname@example.org