When I was around nine years old a new neighbor moved in next door. His name was Norm and my siblings and I loved that he put up a tee-pee in his yard. Our family welcomed him with open arms. One night I remember mom and dad going to his house, he had asked a few of the neighbors to come by for a party in the tee-pee. Unfortunately this was an adult only gathering. Later that night when my parents got home I saw mom was upset but did not understand why. It wasn’t long after that gathering I was sitting down on my mother’s lap and she told me that Norm was sick. She told me he had AIDS but I didn’t really understand what that meant.
As a kid growing up in the 80’s there was a lot of talk about a newly discovered disease that brought “fear” to our nation. Because there was so little information about AIDS itself, fear was a natural feeling or emotion to have. Contrary to popular belief around our nation, my parents made sure we understood that nothing would happen to us when we spoke with Norm or gave him a hug, that we couldn’t catch what he had. Norm was deteriorating so quickly that mom and dad no longer let us visit him. They wanted us to remember him as the healthy, fun-loving guy. The last several weeks of his life my mother became his main caretaker. If she could spend all day with him and not get sick, then I knew there was nothing to fear from AIDS. This personal experience at such a young age helped me develop an understanding of what it means to help someone in need that we don’t have to fear AIDS.
AIDS does not discriminate against age, race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. While this is true, there are certain groups that are impacted more so disproportionately. In the early 80’s, gay men, heroin addicts, hemophiliacs and Haitians were groups considered high risk. More recently, women, children and young people have become more vulnerable based on their age and sex. This may be due to limited education, job opportunities, growing number of sex slaves and increased drug use intravenously.
There is HOPE. With new medications and therapy programs, those with HIV/AIDS are now living with the disease, rather than dying from the disease. Continued funding for research is extremely important as we are near to finding a cure for this disease. There are numerous ways we can help, such as finding a local organization that hosts races, rallies and fundraisers.
December 1st is called World AIDS Day. I encourage you to educate yourself and those around you to help decrease the number of people being infected by this disease.
In memory of those who lost their battle and to honor those who are fighting the war now-