For the past 10 years I have lived in Baltimore, where I am the director of programs for STAR TRACK (Special Teens at Risk, Together Reaching Access, Care and Knowledge) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. I have been in this position for two years, and prior to that I was with the university for six years as HIV-prevention manager.
My work in HIV started as volunteer while I was an undergraduate student. I have several family members who are affected by HIV, including two who have died. Seeing what HIV is all about from such a personal experience made me realize that this is a cause I always wanted to be associated with.
I started out working in transitional shelters for the homeless, where a lot of the guys were affected with HIV. I went on to work in a clinic. I truly loved the work, but felt there was so much more I could do to have an impact. That's when I started working with a focus on young people and began my working relationship with the University of Maryland.
The HIV epidemic in Baltimore is pretty interesting and somewhat unique. You can clearly see the divide in how the transmission of the virus is spreading. With the older generations of those infected and affected by the virus, much of the transmission has to do with issues centered on years of substance abuse. With the younger people, HIV seems to be more connected to sexual behavior or they were born already infected. But for the most part we have an epidemic that is primarily affecting young Black gay men.
I can't tell you how much I feel I was meant to do this work. It's been amazing. I've been able to work with so many people, and I continue to watch the changes in their lives because they're involved in one of our programs. I've seen many of them get involved, eventually working in one of our programs.
In the Black AIDS Institute's African American HIV University's Science and Treatment College, I was able to meet some awesome people doing some incredible work. Coming into the training, I always knew I was prepared in counseling and testing, and I felt I had a strong foundation in practice and behavioral research, but I did not have a strong knowledge of the science of HIV.
Now I have a stronger knowledge of the science behind HIV and a greater understanding about the amazing medicines currently available.
We are able to identify more people and are getting more people tested and into treatment. I still see the stigma in the Black church in regards to HIV, but I must say that many churches are making great efforts to understand HIV and do something in the community.
This story, told to Glenn Ellis is a health writer and radio commentator, is one in a series about the 2013 fellows in the Black AIDS Institute's African American HIV University's Science and Treatment College..