J’Mia Edwards talks about keeping a roof over her head, raising her three children and being HIV-positive.
It’s been seven years since I tested positive for HIV in 2005.
I was a 25-year-old old mother of three living in the Anacostia/South East neighborhood of Washington, D.C. I lived in denial, fear and shame of my diagnosis. I’ve been on welfare and had serious bouts of homelessness over the years. But one of the biggest blows I received was in 2008, when I was given an AIDS diagnosis.
But by the grace of God, somehow I made it through.
In 2009, I was featured in the documentary The Other City, which focused on the AIDS epidemic in D.C. My fight to find quality housing and have a roof over my head was for the world to see. I also started working as a trained HIV tester and counselor for a non-profit organization. Obtaining this position allowed me to transition off the welfare system.
But I want to be clear: Life is still hard. Even though I'm a productive member of my community, I'm living below the poverty level, but I still don't qualify for some programs. And so, playing this role as provider, mother and AIDS activist is emotionally and financially tiring.
As someone living with AIDS, I struggle every day with taking my medication on time, hell even remembering to take it at all. I also have a lot of guilt. As a mother, I worry about raising two young Black boys and a girl without their father’s help. I don't want the streets to take them, of for them to end up in jail, find themselves a teenage parent or have to live with AIDS. I worry about their mental health and while my boys tell me they are fine, I know that on some type of level, we all need therapy to help cope with my diagnosis (my 5-year-old daughter doesn’t know about my diagnosis yet).
My sons understand why I do this work, but I know they still miss me being home like before I started working. At times I feel overwhelmed with bills, parent-teacher conferences, work and speaking out about HIV/AIDS. Those are the days I have to tell myself that my work is not done. At times I feel like Superwoman trying to be in so many places at one time.
But, I know that in my heart, this is what I am supposed to be doing, and I know that my kids are proud of me.
God put me in this to help hold the hands of others that are afraid. And I am going to keep pushing through, encouraging people to get tested and know their status, encouraging others to understand the importance of housing for people living with HIV/AIDS and reducing stigma among those like me who are living with HIV/AIDS.
Watch a clip of J’Mia in The Other City here.
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(Photo courtesy: Cabin Films/Jonah Koch)