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When AIDS hits home

Paul Lamar Roberson | 12/7/2011, 5 p.m.

I write this letter based on my affected but not infected status. I write this letter because I would like to initiate a discussion about HIV/AIDS in the Black community. I write this letter, because of the impact this disease has had on both my life and my family's lives.

When I learned about the disease in school, I thought that it only affected injection drug users, homosexuals, prostitutes and those who lived in the Third World. It was not until my own uncle was diagnosed with AIDS that the disease and its impact became a reality to me. I saw the physical manifestation of the disease on his tall frame--the dark dry skin, lesions and his dramatic weight loss. I heard the thick mucosal cough and saw the despair and fear in his dark brown eyes.

The doctors were preparing for the worst, because the disease had progressed so far that the medicine they would normally give patients with his condition would have overwhelmed his system.

At that point, my family was faced with an important decision. We could either prepare for a funeral or put our faith into action and ask God for a miracle. Fortunately, we chose the latter. We united as a family and actively participated in my uncle's healing and resolved to beat his health challenge. In all, we fervently prayed, cooked for him, cleaned his house and surrounded him with love and let him know that we cared and we were invested in his well being, long-term care and improved standard of living.

Through our faith, we saw God's miraculous power. Not only did his disposition improve, but the doctors were astonished at his prognosis and were then able to put him on a potent cocktail that attacked the virus that was trying to take his life.

Following this chapter, I decided to educate myself and advocate for those infected with this dreadful disease. It was at this time, that I became a strong believer in education, prevention and treatment. I also decided to do my part and make a concerted effort to inform my friends and associates about this disease and prevent others from going through what my family went through, and is going through.

That summer I was afforded the opportunity to further this goal by joining an organization called the Campaign to End AIDS--Youth Action Institute. This caucus was comprised of youth from around the world, who are both socially and politically aware and passionate about finding a cure for HIV/AIDS. In June 2009, I traveled to the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, for a youth action institute to receive intensive training in lobbying, grassroots organizing, utilizing the mass media and the like.

Following the program, each participant in the summer institute was required to volunteer with an ASO (AIDS Service Organization) and to return to their respective communities and develop a program to combat HIV/AIDS. I volunteered at AIDS Project Los Angeles. In this capacity, I worked directly with clients and helped to provide them with a multitude of essential public services to assist them in areas of housing, mental health, dental, legal, counseling and clinical care.