Published December 3rd, 2019 at 12:00 PM
Rev. Eric D. Williams has long been an advocate for educating his congregation at Calvary Temple Baptist Church about HIV/AIDS. All you have to do is walk into the Calvary Wellness Center to see the proof. A large table is loaded with brochures, magazines and pamphlets about the disease.
“You observe World AIDS Day, you don’t celebrate it,” Williams said. “You use this day as an opportunity to educate and prevent the spread of the disease because it is not over.”
“We need to see HIV/AIDS as a health crisis just like violence and mental health,” Williams said.
Williams has long been a part of the HIV/AIDS story in Kansas City. He was asked in the early 1990s to do a eulogy for a young man who had died of AIDS. The young man’s pastor would not allow the funeral to take place in the church and refused to do the eulogy.
Reverend Williams was asked to help and soon was sitting in front of the young man’s parents.
“Black dads disowning their sons is almost expected but this family loved their son unconditionally,” Williams recalled. “It was such a warm and wonderful experience – it was life changing.”
But now, in a time when HIV/AIDS is more about living than dying, Williams points out that people are dying in silence due to the stigma attached to the disease.
“They are not being celebrated, their families are not allowed to grieve, honor and remember their loved ones in a space that is friendly and judgement free,” he said.
On Tuesday, Williams hosted an annual World AIDS Day breakfast at the Kauffman Foundation. While many other cities are no longer holding events on World AIDS Day, Williams believes it is still important, not only for the people who want to honor the memories of their loved ones but to encourage and support those who work in the field to minister them to healing.
And as a reminder that it’s not over.
Flatland reached out into the community and asked two individuals living with HIV what they feel is the most important thing people need to know about being HIV positive. Their responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
The most important thing I think people should know about HIV is that you can live a normal life literally. The medication that they have today is amazing! I take one pill a day that stops the reproduction of HIV. Also, taking the medication makes me untransmittable to others and undetected on test results. That is called U=U status UNDECTECTABLE = UNTRANSMITTABLE.
When I first found out I had HIV, I thought my life was over – like death sentence over – because that’s the stigma of HIV. I was my own stigma! Every negative aspect attached to HIV such as people treating me differently, being single and death are all things I thought would happen to me.
After a year and one month I choose to NOT be quiet about it and speak out to share my experience. A part of me feels like this was my purpose to speak and share with others, especially since I have kids. All those negative aspects I thought would happen to me did not. I told my family and close friends – of course they all loved and check on me more. As long as my family and friends are good with it, that’s all that matters.
After moving to Kansas City in March of 1998 – straight laced, clean cut – I was barely out by 2002 and I felt I had it all in the bag so to speak. In 2008 my long-term relationship ended. By 2010 I had played the field looking for someone to fill that empty space, but the way I was doing it was risky. I knew just being picky would keep me from getting sick, getting ‘the HIV’.
My older brother disclosed to me his HIV status. I was lucky to have a peer, someone like me, family even. I learned that being picky doesn’t protect you from an HIV or other STD/STI diagnosis. Neither do stigmas related to HIV/AIDS. What those things do accomplish is creating a dividing line between people who NEED TO BE EDUCATED on this disease. Even if you do live with HIV, life isn’t over and you are NOT alone… You can have an amazing fulfilling sex life, even with a person who does not live with HIV. My partner of two years is still negative (not living with HIV) U=U Undetectable = Untransmittable.
I take medication daily as prescribed. I am undetectable. I see my doctor and I talk about sex. I share my recovery and my HIV stories with others in hopes that just one person seeks treatment for SUD (substance use /behavioral health disorders) and gets that HIV test, gets into care. You are not alone in this battle, EDUCATE YOURSELF WITH FACTS NOT OPINIONS! YOU can LIVE and THRIVE with HIV.