Does HIV Look Like Me?
Originally Published: March 1, 2006
Revised: September 25, 2012
Scary fact: Half of the HIV and AIDS infections in the world occur in people under the age of 25. That means people like YOU and ME.
Scarier fact: As a teen, there are very few HIV/AIDS organizations that cater especially to us.
Enter Hope’s Voice, a New York City-based group of young adults living with HIV/AIDS and devoted to providing a safe environment for young people to express concerns, fears and questions.
I talked to Todd Murray, 24, the Cofounder and Executive Director of Hope’s Voice, who says, “Our work is important because it gives a face and voice to this disease. Hope’s Voice’s message, speakers and national campaigns fill a much needed void of information on sexual health.”
Here I am. I am the voice and face of AIDS. You couldn’t even tell, could you? Neither could I.
Hope’s Voice is comprised of nine HIV/AIDS-positive young adults, including Todd, who travel the country, speaking to high school and college students, informing young people about the risks of the disease and encouraging them to get tested and know their status.
The speakers prove that HIV does not discriminate. They represent a variety of ethnicities, income levels and sexual orientations; they show that we are all at risk. Marvelyn Brown of Nashville, TN, for instance, was infected when she was 19 by having unprotected sex with a guy she thought was cute. Christina Rock, in the Florida Keys, was diagnosed at 2 ½ years old, having contracted the disease from her HIV-positive mother.
Amira Hikim, 25, and a mother of three, who found out she was HIV-positive during a routine pregnancy exam, says, “Here I am. I am the voice and face of AIDS. You couldn’t even tell, could you? Neither could I.”
The Story Behind the Scenes
But how did he do it? I asked Todd to explain what inspired him to get off the couch. He started off by giving me the best definition of activism I’ve ever heard, “Being an activist is when you feel angry, discriminated against or you think that an issue or situation isn’t right. And then you do something.”
When Todd found out that he was HIV-positive at the age of 20, the revelation left him devastated. Sex ed in his Oregon high school had been a joke. When he looks back now, he wonders just how he could have been properly informed. “We took turns reading out of an outdated sexual education book,” he says. “There was no mention of HIV and AIDS in the curriculum.”
After living with the disease for two years and becoming more comfortable with his HIV-status, Todd slowly started to tell his story and found that it had a powerful impact on people. He realized that he could help young adults become smarter about protecting themselves. “I saw the need for a personal connection to the disease.”
Todd’s desire to educate has turned into a national organization that just keeps on growing. Recently, Hope’s Voice launched an awareness campaign called Does HIV Look Like Me? This campaign distributes materials to schools and asks viewers to question their stereotypes about the disease. Todd is also gearing up his speakers for the 2006 Road of Hope Tour, which visits high schools and colleges around the country.
This proves that one person really can make a difference.
What Can You Do to Stop the Spread of HIV?
- Know Your Status. Click here for information on getting tested.
- Don’t have sex, or if you do, use a condom every time.
- Learn the Facts. Visit www.knowhivaids.org to learn more about the disease.
- Spread the Knowledge. Bring Hope’s Voice to your school. Contact them at 1-212-459-1599 or www.hopesvoice.org.
- Become an HIV/AIDS Activist. Visit www.fightglobalaids.org for ideas on what you can do now.
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