“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned…”
Matthew 12:37, KJV
“Some folks has a lot of things around them that shines for other peoples. I think that maybe some of them was in tunnels. And in that tunnel, the only light they had, was inside of them. And then long after they escape that tunnel, they still be shining for everybody else.”
Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones, “Precious”, 2009
We frequently hear stories about friends, loved ones or people being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but how often do you hear a tale of someone being right where they should be at just the right time? Although some might call that, ‘good luck,’ I consider that a blessing. And y’all already know my Daddy taught me to share my blessings with others anytime The Lord sees fit to bestow good fortune and bounty upon me! So, in honor of World AIDS Day (December 1), please allow me to share my blessing with you!
In a previous post, I shared the story of my college professor, Mr. Willard C. Pitts, who had such a tremendous influence on my development into the journalist I have become. After he retired, my new professor sauntered her way into my life and presented me with a whole new set of challenges.
Miss Chaz Kyser believed that a student newspaper should be ran by students. I eagerly accepted the role as the first student editor of The Gazette in over 20 years. Not only did I feel like I had to show Mr. Pitts that I could handle the responsibility, I also wanted Miss Kyser to see that I was indeed the best person for the job. The obligation took away nearly all of my free time and just as I began to question the worth of my self-imposed burden, fate came a’knocking on my door.
One day, while conducting business as usual in the news writing lab, Miss Kyser announced that we had received a letter from California. A Los Angeles based, nonprofit organization known as The Black AIDS Institute sent an invitation for HBCU (Historically Black College / University) students in leadership positions (presidents or VPs of student government, editors of school newspapers, etc. ), to attend a two-day, HIV/AIDS conference in Atlanta. The trip would be absolutely free, on one condition– when I got back to school, I had to write a story for The Gazzette about the information I received from the conference. We called to confirm our reservation the next day.
Now, at the time, I considered myself fairly knowledgeable about stuff going on in the world. I mean after all, I was EDITOR of the school newspaper, not to mention I watched the news like every day. Even though I had a few more semesters to complete before I would be ‘official’, I still considered myself a real journalist. I fully expected to learn a little something at the conference, but nothing major.
What I heard during those 2 days completely blew my mind.
The director of The Black AIDS Institute, Phill Wilson, along with his colleagues and other collaborators, brought together over 100 Black college students to inform us of the alarming rates of new HIV cases being discovered among young, Black heterosexual women and homosexual men. Mr. Wilson and the BAI team stressed the importance of getting tested and knowing your HIV status. The BAI staff wanted the students attending that weekend conference to brainstorm, mobilize and create a plan of action to take back to our respective campuses that would increase HIV/AIDS awareness, promote healthier lifestyle choices and encourage students to get tested. As a result of the efforts of all involved, we created Leaders In the Fight to Eradicate AIDS, or simply LIFE AIDS. And can you believe that the group elected me to serve on the founding board of the organization?
I came back to Langston and hit the ground running. I could not rest until I told other people what I had learned in Atlanta. It baffled me how the detrimental effects of HIV/AIDS on the Black community had gone unnoticed and unreported for so long. I had finally grasped the importance of effectively communicating with people. Now I understood my responsibility as a journalist. My assistant editor, Kevono, got promoted to co-editor and together we helped implement positive, effective change in the fight against HIV/AIDS on our campus. The counseling center partnered with the medical clinic to offer free HIV testing once a week, we sponsored a free health rally to pass out condoms and information about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and BET came to LU to film an HIV/AIDS special promoting students to get tested.
During the summer, Mr. Wilson offered me and a group of other students an internship opportunity working for BAI in LA. I worked extremely hard for 3 months, but the experience was phenomenal. In fact, I still keep in touch with the other students to this very day.
This story is special to me for so many reasons. I would have never met Phill Wilson, an HIV+, gay man who taught me so much about strength of character and compassion for my fellow mankind, if not for Chaz Kyser, who inspired me to pursue and achieve my goal to be the best journalist I could be, because of the seed planted within my mind by Willard C. Pitts. All 3 of these people presented a unique perspective on life that a spoiled little country girl like me doesn’t see too often. I am eternally grateful for the time and patience they sacrificed to open my mind and heart to experience all this world has to offer. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to give back and share these blessings that the Lord has bestowed upon me with the world. It feels amazing to use my talent for good; that may not be much, but it comes from my heart, so that makes it priceless. Until next time…