Empowered: Alicia Keys hosts living with HIV/AIDS chat

Chelsea Jones | 2/3/2014, 7:23 a.m.
Grammy Award-winning singer and actress, Alicia Keys, joined five women who are HIV positive to discuss women in the U.S. ...
Alicia Keys hosts We Are Empowered, a conversation with women who are living with HIV/AIDS, Jan. 19. From left: Christina, Eva, Alicia, Kym, Jen and Stephanie. Photo screenshot from Greater Than AIDS video

At the time, there weren’t many treatments available. Jen mentioned that her doctor told her that she could expect to have good health until she was 25 years old and to do what she could with her life.

Nevertheless, after seven years of infection, Jen received access to more advanced medications. Today, she’s in her late thirties and is married with a 6-year-old daughter.

Kym, a young professional living in Texas, learned that she was HIV positive after her new husband became extremely sick and died as a result of the illness. He had known about his status but never disclosed it to her.

Kym stated that her husband kept his status a secret because he felt ashamed and was scared that people wouldn’t accept him. She added that she found the strength in living with the disease by telling her story.

“I saw what HIV silent could do. I saw how it just began to eat inside of him and who he was. The man I fell in love with wasn’t the man that passed away. That was just him keeping all of those feelings and that secret inside of him, and I can’t do that. I have things to do. I’m not about that life,” Kym said, after which Keys gave her a high-five.

A graduate student from San Francisco, Cristina, was born with HIV. She learned of her status when she was nine years old.

She noted that her mother waited to tell her in order to protect her from the burden and anxiety of being sick. Furthermore, she admitted that once she knew of her status, she at times felt like she was living two lives.

“I was really open to one extent. I could get up in a room full of people and tell them, ‘I’m nine years old and HIV positive.’ But then at school, I wasn’t open with my friends. Part of that was I didn’t want to be stigmatized. I didn’t want an AIDS stamp on me as a child,” Cristina said.

However, Cristina expressed that as she became older, she grew more confident and the idea of living a double life faded. She eventually chose to be more transparent about her status.

Eva, a home health care worker living in Atlanta with her family, was diagnosed with HIV when she was 17 years old. She was pregnant at the time and became aware of her status at a doctor’s appointment.

Even though she was initially scared, Eva indicated that she knew from that point forward she had to be responsible for herself. She sought treatment and learned more about the disease and how she could keep her children HIV negative.

She recounted that she begin telling her children when they were young about her status, how she contracted the illness, and what they could do to be safe. She also shared that she was surprised she got married.

“I never thought in a million years I would get married. I just felt then [that] once I told someone my status, it was going to be a problem. My relationship with my husband is the greatest. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Eva said.