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Portraits of HIV: A college peer educator, an activist, a volunteer, and more

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Toni Taylor, Health Peer Educator, Clark Atlanta University

When I was a freshman, my cousin’s best friend found out she was HIV-positive. I remember my cousin calling me in the middle of the day, crying about her best friend finding out she was infected with HIV. It was surreal. You hear about people having it, but you would never think someone you know could have it, too. I realized that HIV is real, and I felt like I needed to become a spokesperson for safe sex. Most of us believe we are immune to the disease, but the truth is, we’re not invincible.



Lamar, President/CEO, H.Y.P.E.

(HIV Positive Youth that Pledge to Empower themselves and others)

When I was 18, I got super sick. I couldn’t even walk from my door to my mailbox without being out of breath. A couple of days before my birthday, I fainted in the shower and went to the emergency room. I was diagnosed with AIDS. Growing up, I knew nothing about HIV or AIDS, so I didn’t understand how serious it was. When they told me I was dying, the only thing I could think about was the legacy I was leaving behind. As I got better, I realized I didn’t want anybody else to have to live with this disease.

To hear more of Lamar’s story, and why HIV is so prevalent in Atlanta, click here.

LaTishaLaTisha, Volunteer Coordinator, AIDS Walk Atlanta

I started participating in AIDS Walk Atlanta in high school because one of my teachers had a family member who passed away from AIDS. Her story really touched me and my class because her family member was young. The story could have been about any of us. We wanted to show our support for those living with, or being affected by, HIV/AIDS by doing the walk.  I also lost a family member due to AIDS complications, and that’s why I’ve continued working in this field. I know the AIDS Walk is a great way to reduce stigma and provide hope for those living with HIV/AIDS.

TammyTammy, Volunteer, AIDS Walk 2015

I volunteer with an organization that focuses on helping kids who are either infected with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS. I used to be a mentor to a 15-year-old girl whose mother had HIV. It was very difficult for her. Growing up, whenever she or her siblings got sick, they all had to go live with their grandmother because they couldn’t be near their mom. And anytime their mom got sick, they didn’t know if she would make it to the next day. Now, the daughter is in graduate school and the mother is doing great. She’s been living with HIV for years, and today she’s happy and healthy.



Carla, Medical Case Manager, AID Atlanta

I have a cousin who is HIV-positive. He contracted HIV when I was a kid, but there was such a stigma around HIV/AIDS that he wasn’t comfortable telling our family that he was HIV-positive, or even that he was gay. I was in my 20s when I found out, and I was shocked. I used to think you could catch HIV just by touching someone who was HIV-positive. Once, right after I found out about his status, I had to ride in his car, but I didn’t want to touch anything because I thought I would contract it. It wasn’t until I learned more about HIV/AIDS that I realized how you actually contract it, and I realized how amazing it was that he had been living with HIV for so long. I felt sorry that he couldn’t share with us that he had been living with this virus for over 20 years. I was sad that he felt he had to keep it a secret.

DaloraDalora, Counselor, AID Atlanta

As a counselor for people who are HIV-positive, I’ve had experience helping people from a lot of different backgrounds, but I’ve realized that every person is affected by HIV. I’ve worked with a lot of people feel like they have to keep this part of their lives secret. Some even refuse to take care of themselves and get treatment because they want to keep their diagnosis a secret.
On the other hand, I’ve seen that good can come out of a positive HIV diagnosis. I’ve seen so many people turn their lives around after being diagnosed. A lot of people are able to find a sense of community and try to educate themselves so that they can help other people who are HIV-positive.


Phredd, AIDS Walk participant

I lost a brother and many friends to AIDS. I’m not sure how to express what it’s like to lose someone you love to AIDS. It sounds callous, but it did affect me differently when my brother passed away as opposed to when my friends passed. I grew up with my brother and I loved him, but he was always in and out of trouble, and I wasn’t as shocked when he died. It was different with my friends. Losing one friend in particular was very hard. When I met him, he was so vibrant and funny and full of life. He was the type of person you really looked forward to seeing.  I watched him deteriorate; toward the end of his life, it was like he wasn’t even himself. He was a huge part of my life and I never got to tell him. You think that after years, the wounds would heal, but they never do, not completely. I don’t want other people to have to lose someone they love like that.

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