She was only 16 years old when she learned about her HIV positive status. With a small baby by her side, she made the decision to leave the partner who had infected her with the virus. Today, five years after her diagnosis, Antoinette M. travels around the country to tell young people about her struggles as a single mother living with HIV.
On Thursday afternoon, Antoinette, along with experts in the social and medical fields, shared her knowledge with an audience of about 40 people in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center’s Room 270 on what has come to be the pandemic of the century: AIDS.
When Antoinette was 16, she was living with a man who was twice her age. Her mother, Antoinette said, wanted her to marry this man. Antoinette knew better. After learning the man she trusted had infected her with the deadly virus, she took her daughter elsewhere and decided to educate herself about the disease. She wanted to break the cycle of poverty and miseducation among black young adults, starting with her young daughter.
“My parents had me when they were 15. I would go through basically what any child would go through living in the projects,” she said. “Right now, I’m trying to break that barrier with my daughter. As she gets older, I’ll let her know about what’s going on in this world.”
Antoinette works with the AIDS Coalition Project, an organization that aims at spreading awareness on HIV/AIDS throughout the country.
The fact that she is 21 years old, Antoinette said, helps her reach a younger audience that might not be reached through an adult.
“It’s (convincing) because it’s coming from me,” Antoinette said. “I know a lot more about what adolescents ever went through. If I tell (young people) ‘Hey, it can happen to you,’ they would listen more (to a young person like myself) than to anyone else.”
Antoinette said there are a lot of reasons why she joined the ACP organization, mainly her hope to not have any more people deal with what she has experienced.
“The disease is very stressful itself, and taking the medicine is also stressful,” Antoinette said. “Everything that has to do with (the disease) is stressful. I don’t want anyone to go through what I go through everyday.”
Experts, such as Georgette King, an HIV prevention researcher, were also in attendance.
“Two adolescences are infected every hour in the U.S. One fourth of the people who are infected don’t know they are infected,” King said.
King added the demographic most effected by the disease is women.
Even though 14 percent of the women in the United States are black, they make up 64 percent of the HIV/AIDS reported cases in women. Black and Latina women make up 78 percent of those cases, King said.
The lecture, titled the “Impact of HIV/AIDS on Black Children and Families,” was held as part of the Black Child and Family Conference going on until today. For registration and topics of the lectures being offered today, log on http://isis.fastmail.usf.edu/ibl/cform2004.asp .