A minute into my conversation with Cedric Sturdevant and I can already hear the shift in my voice. Talking to people from the south always does this. Always. And Cedric immediately hears it and calls me out, “you southern?”
He laughs as I stretch out my, “Welllllll… kind of?”
We then immediately start talking like southern people do. That is to say we start talking about where our people are from and our grandmothers and our mamas.
(That’s Cedric in the image to the left. When I asked him who he was hugging he told me, “that’s my gay grandson!”)
Cedric has an easy laugh and is a natural story-teller. Most people from Mississippi are great storytellers, but Cedric has a way of grabbing you at your heart.
I’ve called Cedric to talk to him about his health. So after we have talked about food and families I jump right in and ask him, “what was it like? The moment you found out you had HIV?”
Turns out there are two moments that come to mind for Cedric:
The moment in 2005 when his then-partner came home and told him he found out at a blood drive he was HIV+.
And then the moment, a year later, when Cedric was hospitalized and his doctor quietly told him he was HIV+.
The year in between those moments was very bleak. Cedric was in denial that he could be positive. And even though he regularly saw his doctors for the management of his diabetes, he refused the knowledge when they offered to test him. When he became sick doctors treated symptoms. They still didn’t test him because he wasn’t open about the possibility he could be positive.
The year of denial is one of his regrets.
In 2006 his former partner died from complications of AIDS. Cedric himself was sick, incredibly sick; he was losing weight and the doctors didn’t know what was wrong. He was admitted to the hospital and remained there for 13 days. Cedric’s family had come into town to help support him through the loss of his former partner, thus they were in town when Cedric was admitted to the hospital.
Cedric knew what the diagnosis was going to be when the doctor walked into the room. His doctor told him, “You are ill because of complications from HIV.” The doctor quietly added, “Your mom is outside in the hallway and we can tell her something else.”
But everything in Cedric’s life was changing at that moment. His mom walked into the room and he told her about his diagnosis. He told her because he needed all the prayers he could get. He remembers his mother stepped out of the room for a few minutes and then she came back and they prayed.
At the time of the official diagnosis Cedric only wanted his mother and his sisters to know. He wasn’t ready for his daughters, who were then 18 and 20, to know. Unfortunately an overly helpful family member found some of Cedric’s medication and googled it. Seeing that it was a medication related to an HIV diagnosis that family member decided to tell Cedric’s daughters.
Cedric braced himself for a hard conversation – but that never happened. Instead his daughters were instant and immediate advocates for him and for others with HIV.
Cedric says he has found his purpose. “Before I was just existing. NOW I am living.” He feels his diagnosis was an opportunity, a gift from God, to have a 2nd chance. Sharing his story has opened up his life to helping others.
Now Cedric dedicates his life not just to being an advocate, but also a mentor to others who are living with HIV. He is the Project Coordinator for My Brother’s Keeper, a community-based organization in Jackson, Mississippi. My Brother’s Keeper is designed to “enhance the well-being of minorities through leadership in pubic and community health practices.”
I ask him what he would tell someone who found out today that they had HIV.
“I would ask them, ‘Are you in care?’ That is so important. If they are not in care I would find out what area they live in and see if I know someone there. I would tell them, ‘You have to make sure you take your meds and go to your doctor.’ Some people are concerned about money. Some people are concerned about side effects. The important thing is NOT to give up. To stick with a program. I would give my phone number and I would make myself available.”
I tell him, “you sound like an amazing mentor.”
He laughs and says, “I try. I try. I carry a photo of myself from when I was sick. So I don’t ever forget.”
[Tweet ““Before I was just existing. NOW I am living.” #adaywithhiv #stopHIVTogether”]
Learn more about A Day With HIV:
A Day with HIV
Read more about HIV in the US:
Statistics from the CDC
A DAY WITH HIV IS TUESDAY, SEPT. 22.2015. On that day, use your smartphone or digital camera to capture a moment of your day and share it with the world. After you’ve taken your photo, include a caption describing your photo, along with the time and location.
Everyone is affected by HIV. Everyone.
There are three ways you can share your photo:
Post it on social media with the hashtag #adaywithhiv
This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.