Inspired, taken back and a new perspective are some of the feelings that arose in me after volunteering at the HIV Community Link for the Night of Service. When our group first arrived at the HIV Community Link, we were led into the presentation room, which was filled with snacks, tea and other beverages. Here was where our perception of HIV/AIDS would be changed forever. We all anxiously waited for Mark, the man who would speak to us about HIV/AIDS for about an hour before we helped with creating Condom packages. As we waited, we could hear a remarkable laughter coming from the end of the hall, the type of laughter that reminded you of a jolly Santa, we soon found out that this was Mark.
Now, let me tell you about Mark. He is truly one of the most inspiring humans I have ever come across. He has a smile that literally lights up the room, he is open to anything and everything (as he says, “there is no bad question, only questions.”), and an aura around him that makes you feel like you have known him for ages. Mark has been living with HIV for almost 30 years; he was diagnosed in the late 1980’s. The stories he told us about living with HIV were remarkable and heart breaking all at once. His perseverance through not only his health struggles, but also the stigma and discrimination he has received as someone living with HIV is truly extraordinary. He presented to us in a very light hearted and personable way a PowerPoint on everything to know about HIV/AIDS including treatment, stigma, statistics and much more. Throughout, all of us engaged in questions and comments that sparked a completely new perspective for us all. Such as the stigma around HIV/AIDS contributing to the lack of knowledge in our society. Or the lack of education in our schools curriculum. Or even the stigma around getting tested for HIV/AIDS, which everyone should do regularly. The one thing that Mark told us that stuck out the most for me is the stigma around HIV/AIDS being associated with “dirty” people or “criminal activity.” People who are living with HIV/AIDS are not gross, nor dirty. They are simply humans who have unfortunately contracted this virus through the “perfect” transmission equation. This statement really opened my eyes, and the groups, as sometimes we have a subconscious view about others based upon stereotypes and stigmas. My experience at the HIV Community Link was life changing and has motivated me even more in the social justice fight. I highly recommend anyone to volunteer at the HIV Community Link or learn about their programs and services that they offer.