Living with HIV/AIDS


Sherlyne Joseph is pictured with her sister, Shownda J. Pagan (left) and other members of Sistas Organizing to Survive.

(NNPA)-Two survivors prove it’s no longer a death sentence.

“The first thing that I did was jump in front of a bus and try to kill myself; me and my baby,” Sherlyne Joseph said. “I felt my life was at an end.”

That happened almost 19 years ago, when she was told that she was HIV positive.

Joseph was suicidal, in denial, depressed and afraid to let others know her status.

She was worried about what her family and others would say about her. But the truth was she had contracted the virus while being faithful. She was in a committed relationship with her boyfriend at the time who cheated and gave her the virus.

Minister Robert Allen of Bible Baptist Church tried to smoke himself to death, when he found out that he had the virus in 1986. He had contracted HIV when he was addicted to crack and living a promiscuous lifestyle, which is why he was not surprised when he found out he had it.

Now decades later, both Joseph and Allen have not let the virus stop them from living. In fact, they both share their stories every time they get the chance. The aim of their stories is to let others know that HIV is no longer a death sentence.

Joseph works as a Willow facilitator at Empower “U”, Inc. and Allen leads an HIV/AIDS awareness ministry at Bible Baptist Church.

Letting go of the secret

Allen had held a lot of things that he struggled with throughout his life, including contracting HIV. But one night while in a therapy group for drug addiction, he had shared his story.

“I cannot describe the feeling of when this great weight falls off of you because now you’ve given it to everybody else,” Allen said. “My life has changed because of that one night in that program.”

After sharing his story, he was clean of drug addiction for a year or two when he started attending Bible Baptist. He shared his story at the church and was embraced with love by most of the church members, although there were some who weren’t as accepting.

He met his wife at the church. After hearing his story, she told him that God told her to tell him if he needed someone to talk to she was available to listen.

“I believe that if I wouldn’t have married her I would of went back to using drugs and I would have died,” Allen said. “Part of my life is being accountable to her.”

Just as difficult as it was for Allen to open up, Joseph experienced similar problems as well — it took her seven years to tell her family that she had the virus.

“It was like a burden was lifted off of me,” she said. “They did not treat me how I thought they would treat me.

Her sister, Shownda J. Pagan, has gotten involved and has been her rock. She has encouraged her to take her medicine and tells her to be optimistic about living. Both Joseph and her sister are actively involved in Miami-Dade County’s Sistas Organizing to Survive (S.O.S.). Joseph encourages people to tell at least one family member or close friend about their status.

“You never know they probably would be the one that would be your rock,” she said.
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Allen said that self-honesty, a lifestyle change, prayer and taking your medication is important to surviving HIV.

Joseph agreed saying that opening up with others, God and taking her medication is what has helped her survive.

“As long as you take your medication and adhere to what your doctor tells you to do, you can live a long, long time,” she said.

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