Growing up, I wasn’t very connected with my family. I was an outcast. I have always felt that God loves everyone equally no matter where they come from, how they live life, or what they believe. My family didn’t always feel the same; this led to a lot of challenges in the home.
I never lived with my parents; it was my sister who raised me. She was my mother and father growing up. My sister never kicked me out, but at the age of 14, I decided that I didn’t want to be in her house anymore. I wanted to prove that I could make it on my own two feet. By age 15, I started prostituting. I needed the money, but I knew in my heart that’s not what I wanted to do with my life.
When I was 18, I was hanging out downtown and I decided to get tested in a mobile HIV testing van. After I took the test, the guy closed the door and said, ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have HIV.’ Right away I thought, how did I catch HIV? But then I started to think about the things I was doing- having unprotected sex with multiple people, not caring who it was. I also started to wonder if I had given it to somebody else.
I began going to the Y-HEP Health Center for treatment. Y-HEP is a safe place for people who don’t have anywhere else to go. When you need somebody to talk to, they always have someone who understands. Y-HEP has so many resources. I’m very appreciative, because without Y-HEP, I never would’ve found housing. I might still be going from shelter to shelter, street to street, trashcan to trashcan. You name it, I’ve probably slept in it. The staff members at Y-HEP and FIGHT also supported me when I wanted to become a youth minister. They helped me become more comfortable and confident with who I am and with speaking to other people.
Every day I wake up and take my HIV medicine. I thank God, because it could’ve been worse and because He put me in a position to help others. If I wasn’t living with HIV, I don’t think I’d be here. When I came to grips with my diagnosis, life became better. I have been undetectable since I was 19 and that is a blessing. Now, the last thing on my mind is HIV.
I hope that sharing my story will help people get more comfortable dealing with HIV. I have HIV, but I’m not going to allow that to dictate my life. When I talk to someone who is struggling with their diagnosis I tell them not to dwell on it. I tell them that while it might not be easy, HIV should not and will not be the end.
- Minister Cauzell Harris