On November 13, 2013, I celebrated my 54th birthday, and just a few days prior I recognized my 18th year of being diagnosed with HIV.
This year’s celebration with my two children, family and friends was a reminder of how truly blessed I am. Many of my friends have not been so lucky. Over the years, I’ve lost more than 20 of them to AIDS-related causes.
Not too long ago, I attended a close friend’s funeral and got to see so many people that I had not seen in a long time. As we celebrated my friend’s life that evening at a special dinner, I was greeted by so many. One memory still sticks in my mind of when two of my old girlfriends first saw me. One of them was frantically crying and she looked into my eyes and said, “They told me you were dead.” It shocked our other friend, but not me. I’ve heard this story many times throughout the years.
I guess people have assumed I’d have died by now. Well, I am here and very much alive, still sharing my story and grateful for every minute that God allows me to be on this earth. Looking back on my life I am reminded how far medication has come. When I first heard about AIDS in the mid-eighties, I had a very vibrant modeling career and was not concerned with the disease, because at that time we thought that it only affected gay, white men. To my surprise, by the early nineties, we were now seeing the effects of HIV/AIDS in the African American community — especially among women and children.
By this time, I had transitioned out of modeling and was one of the first top female music industry promoters working with artists such as 50 Cent, Anthony Hamilton, Brandy, Monica, Usher and Jay Z. I was also featured on Jay Z’s very first successful album, Reasonable Doubt, on a song called “22 Two’s.”
Then in November of 1995, through testing for a life insurance policy, I found out that I had HIV. I still remember that day, November 6, like it was yesterday. The letter came and I wrote on it, “Not true! The Lord has much for me to do!!!”
Living positively, despite challenges
Yes, there was much for me to do, and first was my long road to recovery mentally and physically. Living with AIDS has not been an easy journey.
It was only three years into my diagnosis that I developed full-blown AIDS. I continue to struggle with a very compromised immune system; peripheral neuropathy in both legs from my knees down to my feet; several battles with pneumonia; and I also suffer from Avascular necrosis, a degenerative disease in both my hips, which affects the way I walk.
In my earlier experiences when I was uneducated and living with AIDS — like so many others today — I thought AIDS was a death sentence. In 2009, I was introduced to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, through a friend who asked me to participated in a project she was working on called, Making AIDS History — a PSA campaign for amfAR that would share the stories of those living with HIV/AIDS.
I was later asked by amfAR to become one of the Making AIDS History Ambassadors.
A meaningful life through educating others
As an African-American woman, I was excited and honored and I accepted the call. I knew I would help so many, including the African-American community, which is still largely disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. “In 2010, African-Americans accounted for only 14% of the U.S. population, but 44% of new HIV infections,” according to a White House statement on HIV/AIDS in the black community.
While there is some hope on the horizon — for instance, reports state that HIV rates among most segments of our community are no longer increasing — there is still much work to be done to help prevent infections. Being an amfAR Making AIDS history Ambassador has allowed me the opportunity to educate and bring awareness to hundreds of thousands of people that may not know my story, but who are, or are likely to be impacted by the disease every day.
Today, on World AIDS Day and 18 years later, I can tell you that my life is so meaningful, and I do not take it for granted. My hope and dream is that in the African-American Community through amfAR’s research efforts, together, we will soon see an AIDS-free generation. I invite you to join in the battle of stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and bringing the balm of human compassion to all those impacted by this disease.
Maria Davis in an amfAR Making AIDS History Ambassador.
This article has been updated to reflect the correct author.