Personal Stories

Project I Am is committed to educating members of the community about experiences that place young black men at an increased risk of HIV infection. Young black men are at the highest risk of HIV infection, and these personal stories provide a way to understand the journey of these young men through photos and personal stories. It is our hope through a deeper understanding of these experiences, everyone can learn from these young men what is needed to make our community stronger.

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Problem that can be solved
What I didn't know
Glimpse into the light
Thoughts in process

I Am Randy

I work in the health care industry and I am openly gay. In 2010 I was diagnosed with HIV but before my diagnosis I knew nothing about HIV. After I started treatment I decided that I needed to learn more about the medication I was taking and the disease itself. I began attending HIV support groups and that’s when I realized how big of a problem HIV is. During the support groups I also realized that it doesn’t have to be. I learned that HIV positive people can still live a normal life when they take their medications and take care of themselves. HIV truly is a problem that can be fixed.

I Am Ryan

The first time I remember hearing the term HIV I was a sophomore in college. I remember being shocked that it never came up in any of my high school courses, doctors’ appointments or any of my freshman seminars. I wasn’t shocked because I didn’t know something; I was shocked because the instructor was telling us that young black men who have sex with men were at the highest risk for HIV infection. I was a young black man and was having sex with men. I felt completely uninformed and was convinced that I was going to get this horrible disease. I began learning everything I could about HIV to find out if I had it or how I could keep from getting it. I finally had to talk with someone about it so I went to our school health clinic and talked to a counselor. The counselor talked with me about how I was feeling and let me know that I wasn’t at risk because I was black & gay, I was at risk because of my behaviors. He helped me work out a safer sex plan and I took the test. The counselor just pricked my finger and in a few minutes I had my results. I felt ten times more relaxed when I got them and I knew that I could stick to the plan we worked on to keep me safe. I’ve told everyone I know to get tested since then. Who wants to get sick just because they didn’t know any better? If you find out you have it you can get help. If you don’t have it you can keep it that way. Everybody has a few minutes to find that out

I Am Langston

After recently finding out that 3 of my close friends were infected by the HIV virus, as an African American male from Kansas City, I’ve always had a fear and risk of contracting the virus myself.
I came out at a young age of 19 and really didn’t know anything about the gay lifestyle except the negative perceptions the media, people, and society put on the community as a whole. At 24 years old and counting, I was still a virgin and trying to hold on to my virginity until I was married. It wasn’t until I went to college and began to get educated by forums that talked about HIV/AIDs health and awareness, as well as the conversations with my ‘experienced’ friends.
I can say that through open communication and educating myself, I no longer have the fear of not only contracting the virus or STDs, but that I will practice a safe and healthy lifestyle. Through my friends slip ups and them being overprotective of my, I don’t view people or the virus in a negative perspective , as I have learned that you even if you have the virus, you can take steps to living a healthier lifestyle; its no long a death sentence.

I Am Christopher

I lost a former partner of mine to HIV. I met him during high school and at the time I was under the impression that he had no idea I even existed. A few years had passed since we were both in high school and we began to get re-acquainted. We began to date and began to see each other regularly. Prior to the both us getting together I had noticed through facebook there was a time/period where he had been severely ill and had to become hospitalized, but by the time we had begun dating he had made an almost complete recovery. Well as we began to grow closer in our relationship the curiosity of his illness began to grow stronger but I always strayed away from asking him any questions about it directly because I did not know how comfortable he was discussing his past. It wasn’t until a few months later, after I found out I was HIV positive, I told him immediately. A day later he final told me he was HIV positive as well. We finally had a discussion about his time in the hospital, what brought on his illness and how becoming HIV positive played a key role in him being susceptible to his rare form of Fungal Meningitis. I did want to clarify that I did not become HIV positive due to any interaction I had with him. I realized due to timing of my diagnosis and the time of my last sexual encounter it could not have been any fault of my boyfriend’s I became HIV positive. And although he did not disclose his status to me up front and although he did not disclose to me until after I found out my positive status and told him, I do not resent him for keeping something like that so private. What I was able to take away from this situation, what my boyfriend really wanted me to learn from his mistakes was to take my medications, make my doctor appointments and keep them, follow any and all directions and special dietary regimens my healthcare providers prescribe and above all take HIV seriously from day 1. I think one of the last stitch efforts my boyfriend wanted to teach me was to make myself and my health a priority. He told me that the mistake he made that probably could have saved his life and caused him a lot less pain during his illness was not taking the disease seriously, not talking to his healthcare team and not taking his medications. This is why I wear this necklace, it is the only thing I have which belonged to him and every day the necklace is a constant reminder of not only him but of the important life lessons he left me with.