In 1989, John B. came to a moment he knew would either make him or break him. That moment was when he received a diagnosis of AIDS. Although he had been HIV positive for several years, he knew it was time to take control. John said he had to “find his voice and lift it.” It was then that John began his life as a mentor and advocate.
John began participating in the Illinois HIV/AIDS Lobby Day at the state capitol in Springfield, Illinois. He travels to the capitol every year to advocate for the HIV positive community. Several legislators know John by name from the many long conversations he’s had with them over bills pertaining to the community. John has had quite an impact. One state representative he spoke with decided to sign onto a bill to support ongoing funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). John said that sometimes it’s not easy, but that it is important to put his face onto these issues so that legislators know that men, women and children are impacted by the decisions they make.
In addition to his advocacy in the realm of social policy, John advocates on a more personal level. For years he worked at the Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center as a health educator. His job as a health educator involved visiting Chicago-area colleges, churches and senior centers to conduct presentations on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and to provide testing for HIV.
John moved into Bonaventure House nine months ago and started volunteering right away. John volunteered for Vital Bridges, a food pantry program he participated in as a client before moving to Bonaventure House. At Vital Bridges, John did tasks that range from stocking shelves to helping fill orders for clients. “It meant a lot to go from being on one side of the desk to being on the other side,” he said. John often served people he once knew from visiting the pantry. John says that his presence at the pantry, as a person giving services instead of receiving them, can be an inspiration.
After John started receiving services himself, he realized he one day wanted to become a service provider. He currently attends a University of Chicago and the Illinois Humanities College program The Odyssey Project. There, all of his studies will “give him a better understanding of people.” One day he wants to work with African American, LGBT youth, who have some of the highest HIV infection rates. For John, it’s about giving back to his community.
Of Bonaventure House, John said it has given him a foundation. He needed to be in a safe, clean and sober environment with structure in order to work towards his goals. John has been sober for nearly fourteen months. In the coming months, he plans to chair his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and become a sponsor. John leads by example. He feels that this was the plan for his life. “God has allowed me to turn my misery into my ministry,” John said. He shares his story to encourage and motivate his peers. “The purpose of having experienced these things is so I can share my experience, strength and hope. In turn, it gives me purpose.”
This story is printed in the Alxian Brothers AIDS Ministry newsletter, Voices from Home. You can read more stories like John’s by clicking here.