The Center on Halsted's World AIDS Day event Dec. 5 was as much about information as commemoration.
Booths lined the Center's third-floor lobby, representing organizations that included Lurie Children's Hospital, Janssen, the American Red Cross, Howard Brown Health Center, TPAN, Chicago House and Gilead Sciences. Each table was packed with leaflets and educational materials. HIV and STI testing was also available throughout the day.
In his keynote address to an enthusiastic audience Chicago activist, brand ambassador for the Oprah Winfrey Network, vlogger ( video blogger ), storyteller, speaker, educator and new media strategist Ken Like Barbie filled a lively and deeply emotional one-hour agenda with the story of his life living with HIV demonstrated with candid discussion and clips from some of his celebrated YouTube video diaries.
"We're going to figure out where our voices are when it comes to the struggle," Ken said. "We are going to build to foundation to understand where we all hope to go with this epidemic and the conversations that need to be had."
"I'm about justice," he added. "Justice for me means truth and integrity. I believe not only that we all have a story in us to tell but there's a community waiting to built on the stories that we have within us to tell."
Ken recalled "meeting" HIV at the age of 26. "It felt like the twin towers of my life had come crashing down on my chest," he said. "I couldn't breathe. My HIV diagnosis hurt."
"Disclosure for me is still difficult," Ken admitted. "There are some days that I am able to walk into the gym of the world and I can pick up the weight of disclosure and carry it from the beginning of the day to the end.
"There are some days when that same weight is hard to lift."
Yet when Ken told his mother about his diagnosis she replied "I love you. You are mine."
"In that moment, for me love began to take on a new sort of beauty," Ken recalled. "Love became a huge motif and motive for all the things that I believe in and continue to do.
"Being present and owning your truth and owning your story creates light," Ken said. "And I believe visibility is the cure. These are conversations that need to be continued, shared and amplified."
As part of the event, TPAN Director of Publications Jeff Berry offered an update on HIV prevention and Chicago House Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis ( PrEP ) Campaign Manager Adolfo Luna gathered participants together for a PrEP huddle, providing the latest information on the prevention treatment.
For more information on the Center on Halsted HIV programs, visit www.centeronhalsted.org/HIV.html .