For journalist and HIV advocate Jesse Brooks, spreading the message of HIV/AIDS awareness and healthy living has been a form of therapy for him.
After being diagnosed in 1993 with HIV, he has used his experience to motivate others who are coping with the disease to live a healthy lifestyle despite their status. As a community advocate with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Brooks is featured in the “Stay HIV Healthy” campaign, promoting this message on billboards in urban communities across the nation – currently in Oakland, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.
The campaign posters can be seen in BART stations and on AC Transit buses in Oakland, uplifting a message that many people can relate to.
“People can relate to me being their brother, their uncle, their father,” said Brooks, hoping to support individuals who may have someone HIV-positive in their life.
“My message is you can live with HIV and you can live healthy,” he said, now 22 years after his diagnosis. “This starts a conversation around a subject that is uncomfortable for most…and it’s given me a large platform to reach many people in diverse lives.”
He added, “It’s important for all communities but especially the Black community because we’ve been hit so hard and have disproportionate transmission rates, infant mortality, and so on. It’s important that we see ourselves when we talk about different diseases and the facts, but also when we talk about the solutions.”
When Brooks was first diagnosed, he saw it as a death sentence, during a time before advanced medical treatment was accessible. He battled with drug and alcohol abuse to cope with the pain.
“So many people back then were dying all around me, even taking the medication they had then,” Brooks said, adding that HIV/AIDS campaigns during the 90s did not really speak to his pain or the shame he felt.
“It was when I changed my life to focus on my health that I started getting better. As I worked on myself physically, I had to work on my self mentally, spiritually, and start loving myself,” he said.
He advises those living with HIV to “get care and advocate for yourself.”
“It takes more than physical [health] to be healthy; it’s mental health and spiritual health,” said Brooks.
Brooks also created a slogan, LHIVing (living with HIV), combining fashion and HIV/AIDS awareness on t-shirts to give hope and inspire those infected and affected by the disease.
For more information, visit www.lhiving.org.