After growing up and going to college in Washington, D.C., I went right into working for the government. But I always had this desire to do theater. I moved to New York, and co-founded the Rainbow Repertory Theater Company. It was challenging and breaking barriers because there wasn’t a lot of gay theater back then, especially for people of color. I was following my dream. Then, suddenly people around me started dying from AIDS.
It really hit home for me when I found out my partner had contracted HIV. His death was really traumatic for me. Before his funeral, people in the church were saying things like, “You know, you can’t have pallbearers. Nobody will touch the casket.” People thought that by carrying the casket, they would get AIDS. He wasn’t even allowed to rest in the sanctuary.
After losing him, I knew I needed to get tested for HIV, and in 1993 I tested positive. At that time in New York there was this impending fear of death. It seemed like every day I was going to the hospital and seeing people in their last stages. People with purple lesions on their body and people who just lost their hair from taking AZT. It was horrible.
One night I woke up with night sweats and all kinds of side effects from the different medications I was taking. It was as if God was saying to me, “Do or die.” That’s when I found my calling. It was a calling to serve the dying as well as the living; to bring light into people’s lives and help the community heal together. I’m now a senior pastor at Unity Fellowship Christ Church, Philadelphia, where we believe that God is love and love is for everyone.
I first came to Philadelphia FIGHT as the Project TEACH class assistant. Then I went through the TEACH and Faithful TEACH classes as a student. In 2016, everything came full-circle when I returned to FIGHT as a TEACH co-instructor. What you get from TEACH is the belief that the world is completely open to you, and that the possibilities are endless. You gain knowledge, strength and power. It’s life-changing for so many of us living with HIV. It gives us hope that we will see a cure in our lifetime.
We’re still fighting this epidemic and still fighting for our rights. I want to be free of HIV and I want to see a world free of AIDS. That is what freedom means to me. I will never stop being a warrior in this battle as long as I live, and I plan to be around for a long time to come.