They keep calling him James, but we knew him as Jimmy. His father, James Davis, the fourth, is delivering an impassioned, but hollow sounding speech. It is too far from what Jimi was, but poetic enough for Jimi to have appreciated. James the fourth, I think our Jimi was the fifth. My lil prom date. Lil Bit, as some of us called the short petite boy we couldn’t help but love. He was loved…until the day he died, ironically on his birthday, exactly 24 years old.
My prom date died when we were 24 years old from Kaposi’s Sarcoma, which was so bad, he lost his ability to speak by the end, his former beauty swelled shut and his lymph nodes like stones beneath his jaw. This, a result of AIDS and this, a result of HIV. This was 2014.
We Are Still Dying
T.Y. used to do my locs up at the Beyond Identities Community Center on 36th and Superior, inconspicuously hidden in the back of a warehouse building full of office space. He was present and always felt in a room, a smile wide as an open-armed hug, usually as warm. He was the first person to make me feel welcome there that wasn’t a staff member. An unforgettable kindness that, more likely than not, shaped the future I would have there and beyond.
M died and I wouldn’t have even known had it not been for a friend closer to him asking:
“Did you hear about M?”
“Tina (that’s what we called him)? What about ‘em?”
“Yeah. Oh, you don’t know. He died last week.”
HIV. These were both in 2018.
We are dying. We are still dying. HIV/AIDS is our killer.
What can be done? What is being done? What is the next step now that the CDC has released the contingent information in 2016 that Black men who have sex with men have a 1 of 2 chance in getting HIV, if current rates of infection persist? (Spoiler: they persisted).
From NCHHSTP Newsroom (cdc.gov):
Despite overall progress toward ending HIV, HIV continues to affect some groups severely and disproportionately. Rates of new HIV infections among Black/African American people (hereafter referred to as Black) are over eight times as high—and among Hispanic/Latino people almost four times as high—as that of rates of new HIV infections among White people.
Read more: HIV, PrEP, and the Black Community
But…Isn’t HIV Treatable?
I don’t know why Jimi got so sick from something that is so easily treated in our modern times, where much less of us die than before. I don’t understand the senselessness of why this thing even exists, something so destructive to the body when left to run its course.
Why the people I knew died?
People that look like me.
Where we are now
This work has always been about saving myself.
I saw Jimi the last time two years before he died. He looked vibrant with youthful immortality. He greeted me with the usual jump hug, and we talked about poetry and forgiveness and the like. There was tension between us that never quite dissolved. I watched him change via social media, like watching a butterfly lose its wings and become something else. His best friend told me what was going on as we stayed close.
What barriers to care did he face? Why did it get this bad? Who was tasked to help him and let him slip through the fissures of healthcare, so badly, that he paid for this fumble with his life?
I don’t know. I’ll never know. And the tension has never quite dissolved.
Reach out. Text me! Learn more. There are people waiting to help. I am devoting my life to ending HIV. All I ask for is a conversation and maybe a doctor visit. Let us do the hard stuff.
AKeem Rollins, MetroHealth – Call or Text 216.714.2223
Fiona Allan, University Hospitals