When I was first diagnosed, information about HIV was only provided by medical personnel. However, there was no information about HIV and aging from my health care providers or anyone else. The first information I received was when I participated in a mini-mester at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. Age specific data was provided prior to personal stories of six infected persons who were over 50. The statistics made me aware that HIV and aging was a growing problem, and I decided to share what I learned with other older adults. That was the beginning of my advocacy.
It was difficult to find posters, pamphlets, brochures or anything with pictures that looked like me. Most available informational material depicted young adults and/or gay people. The first time I saw an older adult on a poster about AIDS, he was a gay white man. I couldn’t relate to that. ACRIA’s HIV and the Older Adult training provided the best information as well as pictures of a diverse population of infected senior citizens. This training fired the desire in me to do more – to reach out to as many seniors as I could so they would know HIV was alive and well and did not discriminate. ACRIA’s training was the inspiration for the video “Senior Dating: Older, Wiser, Safer.”
I was fortunate to receive a copy of My Grandma Has AIDS, the true story of an African-American grandmother who had AIDS. She had custody of her granddaughter and could find no literature to assist her in explaining her condition. The result is she and her granddaughter wrote the first (to my knowledge) booklet about an infected African-American grandmother. I am now not only an advocate, but an activist and motivational speaker. I pray every day that God will allow me to be a blessing to someone and that I will be able to do more outreach to older adults in particular. My journey is just beginning and I hope it lasts for a very long time.
Check out Poz.com’s recommendations for childrens books on HIV/AIDS and download a list of books and resources for families and children dealing with HIV/AIDS created by New Hampshire Family Voices lending library.
If you, like Valerie Reeder-Bey, find yourself needing to talk with your child or grandchild about your HIV status – or theirs – The Well Project may be of some help.
Read Terry Wilder’s “living history” of the AIDS epidemic as seen through the experiences of women living with HIV. Valerie Reeder-Bey has also written a book for adults about her experiences with HIV.
Ms. Anna Fowlkes is an HIV/AIDS prevention advocate and spokesperson focusing on education, HIV testing, and the promotion of healthy behavior choices for sexually active people, regardless of age. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Ms. Fowlkes, over her career, has worked at Johns Hopkins' Department of Psychiatry, the IRS, and as a Home Health Care Worker for close to two decades. At age 59, she was diagnosed as HIV positive. To learn more about Ms. Fowlkes, see her portrait in the “Stories” section of this website.