In the second installment of our series examining the impact of HIV/AIDS on the African-American community, people on the front lines of this crisis share their deeply personal perspectives. Their testimony makes it clear that 25 years after the disease was first identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we’re reeling from its fallout. With African-Americans now representing nearly half of new HIV/AIDS cases nationally, Black men and women from every walk of life are loving and losing, living and dying, hiding and fearing, hoping and fighting. In telling their stories, these sisters and brothers want us to grasp a profound truth: HIV/AIDS is everyone’s fight.
Last May, Jere DeFreitas (top left, sitting in chair), a 23-year-old Hampton University nursing student, and her former roommate, Elisa Lawrence, also 23, decided to get tested together.
2:30 p.m., at home
DeFreitas: My boyfriend and I practice safe sex, but we’ve had slipups, so I’m a little anxious.
Lawrence: I was tested once before, two years ago. I’m pretty sporadic with sex, but I have been active in the past two years. That’s why I’m nervous. I won’t wait as long the next time.
DeFreitas: I know the virus doesn’t always show up right away. I get tested every six months just to be sure. 5:00 p.m., in the doctor’s waiting room
DeFreitas: Our infirmary doesn’t do HIV testing. I think administrators are so concerned about Hampton being a prestigious Black university that, even though Blacks have a high HIV infection rate, they don’t want to connect it to our school.
6:00 p.m., after the test
Lawrence: This is easy. It took about a minute for both of us.
DeFreitas: It helps having a supportive person here. If I had never had unprotected sex, I wouldn’t feel all this anxiety about the results. I feel I’m taking responsibility by getting tested, but it was irresponsible to put myself in this position.
Two weeks later, DeFreitas and Lawrence received their test results. Both were HIV-negative.
–AS TOLD TO CYNTHIA GORDY
The HIV-Positive Pregnant Woman
When Lisa Mysnyk, 38, started dating again after becoming HIV-positive, she thought all she had to worry about was keeping her partner safe. But then the condom broke, and she missed a period. I remember the moment the condom came off. I hoped my new boyfriend wouldn’t be infected-getting pregnant wasn’t even on my mind. We both knew the chance we were taking. I had told him at the start of our relationship that I was HIV-positive. (I’d contracted the virus from having unprotected sex with a former partner.) My new boyfriend was down for me then, and he’s down for me now. Of course, he has to get tested every three months, but he has said that he will stay by my side through thick and thin.
When I realized I was going to have a baby, not once did I think of terminating my pregnancy. But I didn’t want to bring a child into this world with HIV. My doctors, who have been great throughout this entire process, assured me that if I took my medication, the chances of my baby contracting the disease would be very slim. Now I’m seven months pregnant and feeling good, but just a little tired. The baby is also doing fine. I’m having a little girl, and when she’s old enough I’m going to tell her exactly what I told my sons, who are 17 and 10 years old: “When you’re ready to have sex, protect yourself. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known the person.”
–AS TOLD TO LaSHIEKA PURVIS HUNTER
Read more in the November and December issues of ESSENCE magazine. The December issue is currently on newsstands.
Click on the related links below to get statistics, facts and more on HIV and AIDS. Tell us: How has your life been touched by AIDS since it was identified 25 years ago?