Speaker shares story of living with HIV for World AIDS Day

By Sarah Hollis | 12/4/17 1:37am

As part of Grand Valley State University's participation in World AIDS Day, the university hosted guest speaker LeSherri James on Friday, Dec. 1, to speak about her experience living with HIV.

Following day-long events, including free HIV screening and the opportunity to sign a banner with encouraging words for those living with HIV/AIDS, participants were welcomed to Rooms 2215/2216 of the Kirkhof Center to engage with James. 

Unlike most keynote speakers, James didn’t stand in front of a room full of people giving a presentation. Instead, all the seats in the room were arranged in a circle, and James spoke of her children and personal experiences as an HIV-positive woman. 

The floor was opened to questions, and attendees were encouraged to ask whatever they wanted. James believes the best way to learn about topics such as HIV is through active conversation. 

Much of the conversation focused on the stigma that HIV-positive people face, as well as the fact that it’s very manageable to live with HIV and not expose anyone else to it. 

“I face a lot of stigma just around being HIV positive,” James said. “If it’s on social media, I can give them a link, and they can read it themselves, but if I’m experiencing it from my family, I have to literally cut myself from them to protect my kids. I’ve been HIV positive for 17 years, and I haven’t exposed anyone, even though I have two kids. 

"I’m undetectable, and I take my medicine, and I make sure people have a choice.” 

Attendees participated in the event for many reasons and potentially left with a new awareness and perspective on the virus and those who live with it.

“I actually heard about this from one of my friends, and then I looked it up on Grand Valley’s website,” said Jaimik Trivedi, a junior computer science major and international student at GVSU. “I read about the topic, and that really made me to want to come. For all my life, I’ve heard people talking about HIV, but I’d never really had a great idea about what that is, and I just wanted to have more insight and know more about it.” 

Nicole Bidigare, a sophomore advertising and public relations major at GVSU, experienced a change of perspective on the virus as a result of attending the event.

“When I saw this (HIV) was the subject, I was kind of like, ‘Oh, it’s something about this,’ but then coming in here and seeing and hearing a woman’s experience about it, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” she said.

Some of the students in attendance even left the event with an urge to learn more about life with HIV/AIDS and to educate others about it. 

“After this speech, I definitely know more than I did when I came here about HIV, so I will definitely try to share what I learned today,” Trivedi said. “With that, I am just more curious, and I definitely want to know and read much more about HIV so that some day, if I come across someone who has HIV, I know that I am the one who needs to give him support and who is the friend that they need.”

Those interested in more information regarding HIV/AIDS can visit any one of the five social justice centers on GVSU’s campus. 

Those who missed the event but are interested in learning about James’ story can visit www.aidschicago.org/page/news/inside-story/pregnant-homeless-and-hiv-positive

“More than anything else, I think I’m going to take away the courage that the patient has,” Trivedi said. “The speaker herself has HIV—she’s had it for more than 17 years now—and just the way she holds her head high, she fights with the whole world, and she protects her kids like their superhero.”

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