Coming out: Marvene Edwards
Coming out: Marvene Edwards
One in a series exploring the lives of people who have chosen to be out about their positive HIV status.
As Marvene Edwards was walking home from a bar, a group of men assaulted her. After discovering that she had no money to steal, one pulled a gun and shot her. The next morning a woman walking her dog found Edwards and called an ambulance. Barely alive when emergency workers reached her, Edwards lost her right eye as a result of her gunshot wound. But she survived, and her father took care of her children while she recovered. She was discharged from the hospital to a rehabilitation center. That’s where she tested HIV positive. It was 1987.
“I was in complete denial when I heard I was positive,” she recalls. “I couldn’t hear what these people were telling me. I didn’t want to live, because people at the time didn’t accept people who were HIV positive.”
Edwards eventually walked out of the facility, turning to alcohol and marijuana in an attempt to find peace. Over time, she graduated to harder drugs.
Eventually her family encouraged her to relocate from Miami, where she had been living, to Gainesville, Fla., where her oldest son was nearing graduation. But even in Gainesville, her life continued its downward spiral; she ended up in a homeless shelter.
Eventually Edwards moved in with her son’s family, which included his two sons, her grandsons. It was on their porch that Edwards’ life took a turn that can only be described as a spiritual revelation.
“One day, my son and my grandsons left the house,” she recalls. “As soon as they left, I went to get my drugs. I had promised myself I’d never do drugs around my family. I sat on the porch, and that was my bottom. I cried out to the Lord for help, and I haven’t picked up a drink or drug since. That was almost 10 years ago.”
Edwards began attending church, and her life slowly turned around.
“I had stopped loving myself and stopped respecting myself,” she says. “On my son’s front porch, I saw my future, and I got a second chance.”
After being treated on and off for years for her HIV infection, she resumed treatment and has consistently taken her HIV meds for the last nine years.
But having HIV remained a challenge for her; no one in her family knew that she had tested HIV positive. She began seeing an AIDS counselor and participating in support groups for PLWHA. At one of her counseling visits, she met Teresa Wright, an HIV/AIDS coordinator. Wright asked Edwards if she would volunteer to help with the local Positives Empowering Positives initiative. Edwards agreed and became responsible for reminding members of upcoming support group meetings.
“After participating in the support group, I knew it was time to disclose my status,” she says. “I had gotten comfortable with the idea of being positive and was motivated to do more. But in order for me to do more, I needed to let my family know.”
Edwards asked her family to sit down for a talk and told them she was living with HIV. The fact that everyone supported her helped her find the freedom to become more active on AIDS issues.
Edwards began speaking about her HIV status at the local Job Corps, in churches, at the University of Florida and in other public settings. She has also appeared on TV talking about living with HIV.
Today Edwards works as a peer navigator in Gainesville, helping to ensure that PLWHA receive needed services. “I let them know I am HIV positive, that they can live life productively, how important it is for them to take their medicine,” she says. “I remind them that they are beautiful in their own skin. People need to know they aren’t alone in this fight, that there is someone else who understands where they are and what they are living through.
“No one has to be another statistic. You need to learn to love yourself and not allow people to make you feel a particular way,” she adds. “This is your power; don’t give it away!”
Excerpted from the Black AIDS Institute’s 2013 State of AIDS Report, “Light at the End of the Tunnel: Ending AIDS in Black America.”