I’m on the outrageously delicious Wendy William’s show today talking about Fall Fashion and how important it is to get tested for the HIV/AIDS virus on December 1st, which is World AIDS Day.
From the time I started out in New York as a model though all the milestones in my life, turning 21, 25, then 30, getting married and having kids, getting divorced and moving on to running my first marathon last week for in support of Harlem United in their grass roots fight against the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, I’ve watched the AIDS crisis claim many friends. In the early days of the virus the toll was swift and brutal. There was Cochise a Navjo make-up artist who embodied all the beauty of his people and made dirty jokes that could have made Richard Pryor blush. We worked together often, and hung out even more sharing our newfound wonder at the city of Manhattan. Our last job was a French commercial we shot in Union Square. He called me later that night to see if I was ok because he had a fever. I brought soup to his little apartment and he rested. Usually, It was a matter of months, in that era to witness the virus take a bright spirit like Cochise that inspired me and lit up my world like the lights of Broadway to see him go blind due to complications from the virus and then die due to opportunistic infection from the posey scarcoma lesions associated with the AIDS virus that extinguished his life in what felt like the flick of a switch.
My friend Tim Rosta, after he lost his partner Bob Caviano who managed the most fabulous singer Miss Grace Jones, went from being a flight attendant to a powerful AIDS activist who founded “LifeBeat.org The Music Industry Fights AIDS”. Tim taught me how to do charity work, how to speak about AIDS in a way that people would listen and get involved, and we had great moments where we saw music touch the lives of people who needed it’s healing power with Hearts and Voices concerts for hospice patients, and kids across the country getting safe sex messaging embedded in the lyrics of their favorite songs from artists as diverse as Ozzy Ozborne and Beyonce on her most recent tour.
Hope came in the mid 90’s with the introduction of AZT drugs. By that time, I had slew of friends who were HIV positive or who had lost their partners in the beginning stages of the epidemic. I said hope, but for some to manage the disease with a myriad number of pills and live a life where joy and intimacy were chased by a life threatening illness made them live their lives to great extremes often take many more risks than you would if you thought there’d be a better tomorrow. My dog walking friend, dance partner and fellow cooking show freak was one of those dare devil, devil may care who spit in the face of death every chance he got, until he broke our hearts when he wrapped his car around a tree one dark summer night on a desolate country road.
Some say death is for the lucky and survival is for the fittest. It shocks me that number one killer of African- American and Latina women ages 25- 45. The numbers are worse for our men. Scary, when I look at those numbers and think how many of us are mom’s taking care of kids and especially the mom’s who are raising kids alone with the help of extended family, and how many of us are mother’s to teens who never had sex education or more importantly “safe sex education” in public school during the Bush era. And then, there’s the health care crisis which makes for the perfect storm for HIV to be spreading faster than ever in our community and among young men who have sex with men, at a rate that’s faster in the developing world.
What’s the major barrier to us improving our health and chances of survival as a people? Not going to get tested for the virus. 50 % of all the new infections a