For the past six moths, I’ve been part of an important touring campaign encouraging women to know their status when it comes to HIV/AIDS. The campaign is sponsored by OraQuick, which makes at at home HIV/AIDS test. Myself and two other women make up a panel that discusses dating, relationships, sex, and how important it is for women, especially Single women, to know their status and be careful out there.
Today is National Women and Girl’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and S&LF is taking part in spreading the word about prevention and care. We spoke with Maria Davis, who is a single women living with AIDS. She tells us about her reaction when she found out she had the disease and how she has taken on the task of empowering other women to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
S&LF: How did you find out about your diagnosis and what was your reaction to the news?
Maria Davis: I found out about my diagnosis through a life insurance policy. I applied for a $100,000 policy that required for you to take an HIV test. I was devastated by the news, “you have the HIV antibody in your blood stream. Please seek help.” That’s the information that was sent to me in a certified letter from the life insurance company.
S&LF: Explain how your HIV diagnosis affected your professional career?
Maria Davis: In the beginning, the HIV diagnosis did not affect my professional career. But the stigma and keeping my status a secret from family and friends is what affected me the most early in my diagnosis.
Then three years later, I was diagnosed with AIDS, and along with refusing to take HIV medications, my health began to fail and that’s when I thought my professional career and life was over.
S&LF: At that time, did you feel like you experienced particular stigma or backlash being a woman with HIV/AIDS?
Maria Davis: My experience was the stigma. No one was talking about HIV/AIDS in the heterosexual or African-American community. There were no women like myself, mother of two with no drug history and a business woman, talking about living with HIV/AIDS. The backlash was that I had to attend men’s groups that were mainly made up of gay men. I had to learn very quickly about HIV/AIDS and the affects it had on women. HIV/AIDS affects women differently than men. I thank God for my doctor and teacher Joseph Sonnabend, a well-respected pioneer in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
S&LF: Who were the most influential people in helping you moving forward after the diagnosis?
Maria Davis: The most influential person was knowing God and Deirdre Fisher-Kemp. She was the first person I told and she immediately started to send me information.
S&LF: What motivated you to not only rebound from your own personal experience with AIDS, but go further to share your story and educate others?
Maria Davis: My motivation was God and my children. I wanted to be here for them through adulthood. My first hospital stay lasted 6 1/2 weeks. Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker and my Canaan Baptist Church Family in 1999 helped me get through the process. My two sister friends, Candace Sandy & Dawn Marie Daniels, gave me the opportunity in October of 2002 to tell my story in a powerful book called “Souls of My Sister’s: Black Women Break Their Silence, Tell Their Stories and Heal Their Spirits.”
S&LF: What impact did your diagnosis have on your sense of self-worth?
Maria Davis: The diagnosis had a huge impact on my sense of self-worth; at first the impact was negative. Reading God’s words and support from family and friends allowed me to know that no one could judge me but God. Despite my diagnosis, I am still powerful and AIDS does not define who I am.
S&LF: Eighteen years later, how has your life changed since your diagnosis?
Maria Davis: My life has changed for the better knowing my purpose and living life, not just existing
S&LF: What are some misconceptions that you believe people still have when it comes to HIV/AIDS?
Maria Davis: Some of the misconceptions that people still have about HIV/AIDS is that money and status exempts you from this disease. If you are in a relationship, married or a senior, you are exempt. This is foolish. Everyone who has been sexually active should be tested!
S&LF: How is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day different from World AIDS Day, and what is your ultimate goal with all that you are doing in spreading awareness?
Maria Davis: National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day allows our women to talk amongst each other and have a conversation with our younger daughters, sisters, nieces, etc. As women and mothers, we are always taking care of everyone else before ourselves. HIV/AIDS and women’s issues, in general, has always taken a back seat to men’s issues. All the negative images that we see in the media about women is an everyday battle.
I have to be an example and do all that I can to speak about self love and power to my women and girls. Being a Making AIDS History Ambassador for amfAR is just one way I can help spread awareness.
S&LF: How do single women who are dealing with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis go about moving forward and having a fulfilled, happy life?
Maria Davis: My advice to single women, like myself, dealing with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis is to know that your diagnosis does not define you. Keep God close and your purpose will be revealed. Love starts on the inside and not from the outside. Take one day at a time, forgive yourself and others that may not understand your hurt or what you are going through. MOST IMPORTANT: speak life into your spirit, walk boldly and laugh and believe me, every step will become easier.
S&LF: Are you single?
Maria Davis: Yes, I am single. Anyone I meet, I am upfront with them about my diagnosis, which often changes their mind. Right now, I’m very involved with being an activist, but if someone comes along, and we communicate well and we have the same goals, then great. I would love to be married one day, but I don’t know what my future holds. I’m hopeful.