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Community Health Educator Spotlight: Porchia Dees

Part of why I am so excited about being a Community Health Educator for Desert AIDS Project is that I get to be involved in helping spread the right kind of information to keep people healthy. I have a lifetime of personal experience in dealing with this pandemic. I am a strong advocate for the cause, and HIV has had a huge impact on my life.

I believe the key to getting to an AIDS-free generation is an education! Not only is knowledge the key, but along with giving out facts and statistics, we must also include our personal and individual stories. It is through our stories that we can make sense of all the information, and that we can UNDERSTAND and connect it to our real-life experiences.

My mother died from AIDS-related illnesses February 21, 2004, and I was born HIV positive in 1986. I am from San Bernardino, California, and there were no HIV medical specialists in my area back then. I had to be sent all the way to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. My provider’s name was Dr. Church, which I’ve always found ironic.

At the time, there were no treatments for HIV. The doctors said I would not live to be five-years-old. However, I just turned 31 December 5. Clearly, God had other plans for me.

My aunt and uncle took legal guardianship of me when I was two months old and made sure I got the care that I needed. Without them, I do not think that I would have been able to survive past my initial life expectancy. I would not have been taken care of very well at home, and definitely would not have made it to the millions of doctor appointments that I had to go to as a child.

I know that this dynamic occurs in a lot of black families as well. Grandmothers have to step up and take care of their grandchildren, or siblings have to step up to the plate and take care of their nieces and nephews due to drugs or incarceration. Fortunately for me, my family never treated me any different. I would not be as strong and independent as I am today if it was not for my family who loved me through my illness, regardless of the stigma.

I feel it is important that I include my stories when I give out facts and statistics, as an African American. Black experiences are often misrepresented in American society. It is through our personal stories that we learn the truth! Stories have the power to create social change and inspire a community.

That is precisely what I hope to accomplish at D.A.P. By sharing my own story about AIDS, along with the inspiration I get by working with the community, it is my wish that you will hear a message of hope.