About five years ago, a friend of mine gave me an article that she had ripped out from People magazine. She stuffed it in my bag as I was putting on my coat. People always do this to me. Wherever I go, I get given little clippings about a church that collected money for wind-up laptops or a Harvard grad from Ethiopia who started a clothing line. I walk around with handfuls of crumpled articles in my pockets and strewn across my car, before I finally throw them away, feeling slightly guilty that I never figured out what I was supposed to make of them.
Except for this People Magazine article. I carried this one in my heart and subsequently recounted its story for many of my students. It was a feature on Brryan Jackson, an inspiring 19-year-old-kid from Missouri. In 1992 his father, a blood technician, injected Brryan, then 11-months-old, with HIV-tainted blood in an alleged attempt to dodge child-support payments. By the age of five, Brryan had developed AIDS. The doctors gave him five months to live. His story is unbelievable, his spirit remarkable.
In Njabini, so much of the pain that kids who are HIV+ experience is related to stigma and secrecy; I was inspired by Brryan’s passion to speak (so openly) about what it means to be HIV positive and in high school. I used to think the toughest conversations you could have, in my line of work, involve explaining to a nine-year-old that her test came back positive for HIV. I was wrong. The harder conversations come years later, when she’s in high school, negotiating adolescence and nursing a crush for the boy in her math class. What now? What next? Who knows?
My search for appropriate and compelling material for teens who are HIV positive has been frustrating. A lot of the literature readily available in rural communities is painfully outdated at worst, and ridiculously cheesy at best - think Mr. Rodgers and Barney team up to write a book. Which is why I could not be more excited to welcome Brryan to our school in Kenya this April as we kick-off a series of workshops centered around HIV and young people, with topics relating to medicine, culture, disclosure, stigma and relationships. We are partnering with other schools, homes and clinics to make sure that access to current, inspiring and fact-based information in Njabini doesn’t end when Brryan leaves.
And we need your help; please consider making a gift in support of this program. Friends who donate $40 or more will receive a DVD copy of all the program highlights, filmed and produced by Rebecca Dobyns.