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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

Living openly with HIV
Stigma of disease is tossed aside
 
Published Thursday, December 27, 2012 8:42 am
by Sandra Jordan, St. Louis American

Kenny Martin, a client of the St. Louis Food Bank, picks up a box a food from the agency’s midtown facility.


‘We live just the way you live; it’s not different, except for we are sick and have to take medication,” Kenny Martin said, adding that ignorance makes some people think that persons with HIV or AIDS are nasty people.


“We are not. You come to my house and you can eat off the floor,” Martin said. “That’s how clean I can keep myself because I can catch anything from anything and be sick, and that’s not what I’m trying to get to; I’m trying to get healthy so I can help other people to be healthy.”


Martin, originally from St. Louis, now makes Columbia, Mo. his home, where he lives in an apartment complex for residents with HIV or AIDS.


“Where I’m [located], they don’t have any type of social group or social network up here for people living with HIV/AIDS,” Martin said. “We have to kind of figure out who’s who in the community who is positive and not positive.”


The absence of a formal support group gave rise to their own informal, personal network.


“When I moved here, they were not communicating with each other. It would be: if you pass one another on the lot, people would just stare; not even a ‘hi’ or a wave. I kind of broke that. Let’s get together; it’s just us here,” said Martin. “And now, we all get together and we do a Sunday dinner amongst each other because we don’t know anybody else outside this area.”


Martin uses every opportunity to inform those inside and outside his community about living with HIV/AIDS.


“I’ve been talking to a lot of people that I run into that are out doing drugs and whatever and I can explain to them what it can lead to when you are doing drugs and not making the right choices,” he said. Martin also carries condoms to give out to others as well.
And one big reality for him is that you don’t have to be ashamed.


“When I moved here, a lot of people would see me getting off the bus and parking lot and people would always say, ‘You know what kind of people live there?’


‘I knew; but I’m like, ‘No. What are you talking about?’ I would play the dumb thing,” Martins said. “And they would say, ‘Well, people over there are sick,’ and I would say, ‘What are you talking about?’”


Martin said a girl he befriended at school cautioned him about people who lived there, saying “People over there – they are dying.” Martin used the stigmatical moment into a positive teaching moment.


“I had sat down with her and talked with her about the steps of being HIV positive and having AIDS. It’s a difference between the two of them. And she never had that knowledge. Now she goes out to her churches and talks to people – the youth about sex and HIV and being positive,” Martin said. “I told her you don’t know who is HIV positive and who is not.


His friend was surprised he was so open about being gay and having HIV.


“Because it’s nothing to close up – it’s an open book,” he said. “I would rather someone to know what I went through so they don’t have to go through what I went through back then. Thirty years ago, HIV used to be a gay man’s disease. It’s not a gay disease; it’s a human race disease.”


He said even some of his neighbors are starting to “lighten up” and coming around.


“They even give me a hug now when they see me,” Martin said. “Where they wouldn’t even shake my hand nor do a fist-bump with me. It’s different now that they see how we live.”


Health-wise, Martin said he is doing well and hasn’t been sick since 2000. When he was first diagnosed as HIV positive, Martin said he was taking more than 40 pills a day in various medications. Now he only takes one for HIV, along with vitamin supplements and a daily baby aspirin.


“It’s a blessing … I’m just flourishing with it,” he said. Martin is currently is in school, studying become a certified nurse assistant, with possible plans to become a nurse.

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