Actress and model Melyssa Ford will be serving up a four-part series on the state and importance of black sexual health, delving into the topics AIDS/HIV. Be informed, be safe and protect your worth.
Several days before I was scheduled to make an appearance and publicly speak on behalf of my non-profit organizations’ partner, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I had a very vivid dream. I dreamt that I tested positive for HIV, and I immediately thought about taking my own life. I believed that my life, as I knew it, was over and not worth living anymore. Having been diagnosed with the virus, which would ultimately lead to the disease that would cause my death, coupled with ostracism from my friends and community, why go on?
The thoughts racing through my head were traveling at the speed of light. Where did I contract the virus? From whom did I contract it? WHEN? I began to think of the conversation I was going to have to have with former partners, not knowing when the virus was contracted and considering it can lay dormant for a significant period of time. Jesus, strike me down now!
And then a voice inside my head said to me, “Now you know just how full of crap you are and have been.” And I knew what it meant. I’d been preaching the word, the gospel, about HIV/AIDS Awareness, Prevention and Education for years. Sitting up on panels, encouraging folks to always know their status and to act responsibly and sitting up on my high horse knowing I had been afforded certain luxuries that allowed me to live a very responsible life. I didn’t have to sell my body in order to make money for baby formula. I didn’t live in poverty, and I didn’t live in an area with a statistically high rate of prevalence, increasing the chance of crossing paths with an infected sexual partner. And so, it seems, I could preach with a subtle sort of arrogance and apparently ignorance.
“So,” this voice said to me, “Let’s see just how full of it you are. Are you going to become a REAL advocate like Magic Johnson, Maria Davis and Marvelyn Brown, or are you going be a coward and go out like a sucker and end your life?” It’s at that point that I woke up. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wake up with an overwhelming sense of relief. It was just a dream, and my test results still said negative, but I was unsettled. I realized that if some young person followed my advice and got tested and tested positive, I would have no answers for them as to where to seek help and medical assistance. In that way, I was no real advocate, and I was STILL full of crap. So, I began to seek answers to the questions that needed asking–that no one ever wants to ask but so many of us should and will have to–if the statistics don’t change in the African American community.
Where can I get tested for HIV? And do the tests hurt?
The test involves a painless swab of the inside of your mouth. You have the choice of going for a confidential test at your doctor’s office or at a nearby clinic. Local health clinics usually advertise that they do free testing so it’s as easy as walking in and requesting it. If you wanted to get tested anonymously, you can get tested free of charge at a testing site offered by your states’ Health Department. You do not give a name; your test is processed by a number. If your test comes back positive, you can request professional counseling so you are made aware of all of your options in regards to health care and help with partner notification. Or you can look up free testing sites on HIVTest.org if your state health department doesn’t provide testing at their offices.