I remember that first day at Bowen like it was yesterday. I didn't consider myself a public speaker. Yes, I was active in politics but I was a behind the scenes organizer. So that day I was a nervous wreck. But it went smoother than I thought it would. I spoke to the first group of students, the bell rang and another group came in. The students seemed to like me and they had a lot of questions, especially about my dating life. So I figured that if being honest meant that they wouldn't end up with HIV, then what the heck. I thought it was going really well and then, about the third workshop, I noticed that some students hadn't left the room. They were hanging around between sessions and took a seat when I started speaking again. I thought that was odd so I asked Ms. Johnson why they were making students stay. She looked me in the face and said, "Child, these kids are skipping class to here you speak." HUH???
And one morning two weeks later, it hit me like a ton of bricks: This is what God wants from me. That day I quit my well-paying job working on a mayoral campaign with no other speaking engagements arranged and no brochure. And the rest is history!
Recently, I asked on my Facebook fan page, "When was the first time you heard me speak?" Here are some of the uncut and uncensored responses:
Angela Gatherings: I must say I prayed & and I cried the same night after you spoke at Hyde Park when I was a freshmen. And yes I'm in my 30's and I still remember your spirit and I've taken that with me all over the world. Thank you for stepping out on faith. You're a very powerful woman.
Stay beautiful and blessed!
Yameka Holmes: I remember the first time I heard you speak. I was a student at Prosser High School in Chicago. I remember you walking onto the stage and how some of the guys were whistling at you and you asked them how many of them would have sex with you. All of a sudden, when you told everyone you have AIDS, the room just went silent. It was surely a wake up call.
Tamara Linton: First let me say that you are an inspiration to so many. You have given people a different perspective on AIDS. I remember when you came to Hyde Park to do a workshop for the students, you blew our minds. You also gave us a serious wake up call. You told us what your life was like as a child, what your life was like then, and through your blog we witness your life now. Then you stated that by the time the Class of 1997 graduated, you would be very sick or dead. Look how far you've come. I actually wrote a story about you for our high school newspaper which I still have. You are one of those people that stand out. Thank you for being courageous enough to tell your story, informing people about AIDS, and for being you!
Latahsa Jackson: I remember I was in high school this was about 15yrs ago. I went to Hyde Park Career Academy in Chicago. I remember u askin the fellas how many of them would have sex with you and every guy in there raised their hand then u said u were HIV positive and silence filled the room. To see such a beautiful person have what we all believe cant happen to ... was an eye open. Hearing u speak made me become more cautious and responsible for the decisions I make in life. Thank you for the information and education you continue to do.
Selina Rodgers: It was my freshmen year of high school a Simeon 95'...it is kind of ironic because my niece attends there now. Anyway, I remember the room having a certain air about it when you first came in and how you kept us all at the edge of our seats with your powerful voice and the message that we would soon learn to understand. You gave us the reality of being in this world and making the right decisions so that we could become any thing that we decided to be without any limitations.
Ryen Holm-Jeffries: u r an amazing woman when u spoke at Seton Academy (c/o 99) u took my my thought process 2 a whole other level. Thank u! U will stay in my prayers!
Keyauna Franklin: I remember as well. It was My Freshman year at Hyde Park. I am now 30! And to this Day I Never forgot You! I can Honestly say that you had an affect on Myself and My Friends. You are Truly an Inspiration and Proof that God has the Last Say! May you continue to Inspire and Live a Long Wonderful Life!
Crystal D. Jackson: The first time for me was at the Youth National Convention in Chicago. It had to be around 95-96. You talked about not being able to run the campaign for Jesse Jackson. There was a brother in the audience who just wasn't getting it. He talked about how he wasn't motivated and how he didn't know how your discussion applied to him. You simply ... See Moresaid, "I hope you will never have to stand in my shoes to 'get it'". I remember "getting it." This talked changed the way I viewed my close family members with AIDS and empowered me to make choices regarding my sexuality.
Katalina Pool: I met you about 12 years ago with dr. hryram at hyde park academy in Chicago while in our aids peer education group! and i swear you were so inspirational. No I dont have aids but to hear your story was so live changing. No lie I was just wondering right before i found your page were u still living and how were u doing. Stay prayful and God will truly keep you in his grace as he has all these years.