by Hal Eisenberg C.S.W.
It turned out not to be your ordinary Thursday afternoon. We were all there for a reason, yet if nothing else were true, the reasons would intensify by the end of today’s group. No one was sure what was going to happen; yet there was anticipation in the air. As the hands of the clock moved closer to 3:30, I glanced out the window of Cardozo High at the hardened rain, reflecting on the irony between the persistent rain and our persistent struggle to fight this epidemic we call HIV and AIDS.
The room fills with voices of formerly trained peer leaders, consumed with their role in our HIV/AIDS Peer Empowerment Pilot Program. Michelle, Stephanie, Michael, Jewlz, Rachel, Matt, Patricia, Joe, Kristen, Richie, and Jaclyn, along with Bari, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of LBB. Everyone began exchanging ideas and wondering what lesson they were going to help construct this week.
The group is brought to order and I state, “We have each individually joined this team for different reasons and it is often discussed amongst our group how we got here and where we are going. This is what I think it’s about.” The lights go off and all eyes turn to the final episode of AIDS: A Journal of Hope.
The documentary ends. The room is still dark. Half of the room sitting in tears, the other half—silent—still in shock. Sometimes the quiet of a room can speak volumes.
I let my group of peer leaders sit—allowing them to take it all in. The box of tissues gets passed around, friends grabbing each others hands, consoling one another. We have just finished watching a documentary on Wayne Fischer where we all witnessed, as if standing right there, a man who we all grew to love in a matter of 1 hour, die from AIDS. I asked everyone in the room to give me their one-word thoughts. “Fear”, “hope”, “faith”, “hero”, “education”, “prevention”, “powerful”, “pain”, “youth”, “opportunity”, “protection”, and “love” were some of the many words that came out. “I know why we are now here”, said one student.”
“We must make a difference. This brings it all home. Wayne is still showing us the importance of educating youth and I see why Living Beyond Belief and Windows of Opportunity have to exist. We have a lot of work to do.” Another student said with tear filled eyes, “Wayne said to live every day to the fullest. It is hard to do that…to keep on going when there is all this pain in the world. It is hard for me to capture into words what I am feeling right now…all I know is I MUST continue to keep the faith and educate as many people as possible.”
There are many moments such as these that I am reminded of the power of youth and the importance of this collaboration to create this new HIV/AIDS Training and Leadership Manual that LBB and WOO are creating. There are many volunteers who tirelessly work towards the creation of this program, and their efforts are already making an impact. As we move into the winter months, our goals of having a fully functioning HIV/AIDS Training and Leadership Manual by June 2005, as well as its implementation in 5 NYC public high schools in September 2005, are right on track.
The end of Wayne’s Aids: A Journal of Hope ended with the lyrics to Mariah Carey’s Hero, which are, “There’s an answer – If you reach into your soul – and the sorrow that you know – will melt away – and then a hero comes along.” This left me with two thoughts. The first is the “answer” which is prevention through comprehensive HIV/AIDS education. The second is the “heroes” who are our youth that will take the opportunities created through LBB and WOO, and continue Wayne Fischer’s legacy, creating change in our world today, so that we may have a better tomorrow.
My closing thought, that consistently stays with me as I define my role in this mission, came to me on World AIDS Day, during the LBB Press Conference. While Barry Z from the Barry Z Show interviewed some of our youth, he asked them, “If there is one thing you could say to everyone out there in this fight, what would it be?” One looked into the camera and captured the three perfect words that I often remind myself of when I attempt to size up the enormous mission we have ahead in order to rid the world of this epidemic
—“Keep the Faith.”