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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Maria Mejia writes about her HIV battle
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2014-09-17

This article shared 8205 times since Wed Sep 17, 2014
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Maria Mejia has long heard that she should write her autobiography, but just never was ready. After all, there are some "deep subjects" in her past, including enduring sexual abuse as a child; running away from home at the age of 13 and joining a gang; becoming HIV-positive at age 16 by the leader of the gang and her first boyfriend; and getting kidnapped.

"It is very deep, but it shows that no matter what adversities we have in life, or where we come from, we can change and turn our lives around for the better. I was a caterpillar who became a butterfly," she said.

Mejia, 41, who lives in Miami and is married to Lisa Laing, is now also an author—of that tell-all book.

From a Warrior's Passion and Pain is Mejia's personal journey that she tagged as "a moving account of survival."

Being HIV-positive is just one of the challenges she's encountered.

"I know my voice is being heard and this makes me complete," Mejia said. "I know I am giving hope to the hopeless and preventing new infections. I also know in the more than 1,000 emails I get [every] day that I am inspiring people all over the world to come out and become activists themselves."

Mejia is an award-winning activist, blogger, motivational speaker and HIV consultant. Mejia's trophy collection has been expanding on a regular basis. Just consider some of her honors:

—ADAP Association Award ( Social Campaign of the Year, 2012 ): The ADAP Advocacy Association is a national 501( c )( 3 ) nonprofit, based in Washington D.C., that promotes and enhances the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs ( ADAPs ) and improves access to care for persons living with HIV/AIDS.

—Legends and Leaders Award ( 2013 ), presented by the Unity Coalition, a Latino/Hispanic/LGBTQ organization of Miami, advancing equality since 2002

—Voz de Compromiso Award, 2014, from Cielo Latino ( The Latino Commission on AIDS ): "It was one of the most special evenings," she said. "Just to hear what people told me that night, that I was following in the steps of Dennis de Leon and that I reminded them of him was humbling."

—41 Honoree List ( one of the 41 Most Influential Latina Leaders ), 2014: "This was amazing, to be chosen as one of the 41 leaders of my Latino community is huge to me and I am deeply thankful."

"Getting all of these awards humbles me and shows that my work is being recognized," she said. "It's most important to me that my message is getting out there—from the Patagonia to some village in Africa and all over the world."

Mejia manages an online support groups about HIV/AIDS that she founded and now has more than 25,000 active members from around the world.

"You would think, after 30-plus years of HIV/AIDS being around, the stigma would be less, but it is still the same," Mejia said. "People still hide in shame and do not want to come out of the HIV closet. That is one of the reasons I am here showing my face; I need to show my face as a woman and a Latina to stomp on stigma and humanize this [disease].

"I am a fierce, relentless activist. I speak everywhere in the world—in jails, schools, churches, conferences, everywhere."

And social media is her prime outlet, too, such that, "I have managed to reach millions of people all over the world," she said.

Mejia does a bilingual video blogs, which attracts more than 500,000.

"The more I reach, the more I educate and save lives," she said.

Also on Mejia's resume are that:

—She is blogger for The Well Project and on its advisory board.

—She blogs for Thebody.com .

—She is on the digital advisory board for Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

—She is the co-chair of the women and minorities outreach for Dab the AIDS Bear Project.

—She is an ambassador of The Stigma Project.

"I have been living with HIV for 25 years," Mejia said. "I got infected in 1989 by my first boyfriend and I was diagnosed in 1991 in a routine test Going from there, learning you were HIV-positive, to today as a prominent spokeswoman on HIV/AIDS … I'm sure the fight is far from over. I am aging with HIV and will fight till the end. I will continue to fight to end HIV/AIDS. I will continue to get my voice heard. I will never give up. HIV/AIDS stops with me."

To order Mejia's book, From a Warrior's Passion and Pain, visit www.kantanoose.com/our_books/from-a-warriors-passion-and-pain/.


This article shared 8205 times since Wed Sep 17, 2014
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