Bronzeville resident Lauryn Scott has heard some outrageous beliefs about how a person contracts HIV/AIDS.
Her aim as an awareness advocate with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago is to dispel as many myths as possible while erasing the stigmas associated with the disease.
“People are still not educated about HIV/AIDS, especially in the Black community where the subject is often taboo or they think it can’t happen to them,” said Scott, who was impacted by the virus after losing her father to AIDS when she was just four years old.
Widely referred to by its acronym, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) affects cells in the immune system. Once enough of those cells are destroyed by HIV, the body is less able to fight infections or disease. If left untreated, HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), according to information on the AIDS Foundation of Chicago website.
Scott said her father never told his family about his AIDS diagnosis.
“My mother found out while he was in the hospital dying,” Scott said. “I remember visiting my father every day in the hospital and being confused about why he wasn’t coming back home.”
It was years later that Scott found out her father died from AIDS.
“We were being nosy kids and went rambling through my mom’s file cabinet when we found his death certificate. I remember reading the words ‘acquired immune deficiency syndrome’ but not knowing what they meant,” Scott said. “Then I looked at each letter until I saw that it spelled out ‘AIDS’. I was shocked and asked my mother about it when she got home. She was upset that we had gone through her things without her permission but was honest about her reason for not telling us the truth. My mom is a registered nurse who had worked with HIV and AIDS patients in the ’80s in Los Angeles and knew the stigma that revealing my father’s diagnosis would bring. She gave my brother and me the choice to tell people the truth and accept the consequences or hide behind the fabricated story of him having brain cancer.”
It wasn’t until the end of high school that Scott tested the waters and told people the truth about her dad, which led to mixed reactions so she again decided to keep her secret to herself.
“In college, I started volunteering for an AIDS organization where we provided a food pantry for people living with HIV,” Scott said. “I was slowly beginning to test the waters to see how comfortable I felt telling people the reason I volunteered, and the more I said it was because my dad died of an AIDS-related illness, the more I grew to accept it myself.”
Scott’s message is for everyone to take the necessary precautions and ask your doctor for an HIV test.
“It’s a test that you have to ask your doctor for,” Scott said. “Once you get tested follow-up with your doctor for the results and then get tested every six months. It’s a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. We will be testing during the AIDS Foundation Walk/Run event. Our theme this year is ‘Live True and Be You.’ Even though I, myself, do not have HIV/AIDS, I share my story because I was impacted by it.”
Currently, there is no cure for HIV. There are, however, effective treatments known as antiretroviral therapy or ART. ART is recommended for everyone who has HIV, as it can dramatically prolong the lives of many people living with HIV and lower their chance of transmitting the virus to others.
In terms of prevention, along with using proper protection, Scott said the Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP pill offers protection from the virus and is a way for people who do not have HIV to prevent HIV infection. She stressed the pill has to be taken every day to be effective. She stressed further that people talk to a doctor for more information about it.
Scott is also working to make sure HIV/AIDS awareness information reaches the Black community and hopes that the information is heeded and not ignored.
Scott invites everyone to the AIDS Foundation’s (AFC) 17th annual Walk/Run event that will take place at Soldier Field from 9 a.m. to noon, Sunday, September 23. Funds from the event are raised for AFC and 34 Community Direct partners. Proceeds will benefit programs and services for Chicagoans living with and vulnerable to HIV.
For more information or to register for the event, call the Run & Walk hotline at