Former Positively Aware associate editor Keith R. Green, PhD, MSW notes that while much in the world of HIV/AIDS has changed since an editor’s passing, a lot has not
It’s been 15 years since the passing of Positively Aware editor Charles Edward Clifton, and it still baffles me how a man I only knew for a short period of time could have such a lasting impact on my life.
I‘d volunteered with Positively Aware under Charles’ leadership for over a year before accepting a part-time position in April of 2004. Four months later, Charles was gone. Shortly thereafter, his Editor’s Note from the September+October 2001 issue of Positively Aware titled “The Past, The Present, and The Future” was reprinted on TheBody.com. Prior to reading this piece, no one could have convinced me that the burden Charles was carrying was so incredibly heavy. Charles’ presence exuded a sense of vibrancy and passion that was incongruent with the revelations of this particular writing. His sudden passing robbed those of us who so deeply respected and admired him of the opportunity to demonstrate that we had his back in the same way that he so selflessly had ours.
I, for one, wholeheartedly believe that I would not be alive and thriving without the divine intervention that came by way of Charles. Literally. His example as an openly gay and HIV-positive Black man, coupled with the nurturing environment that he fostered at Positively Aware and its parent organization, TPAN, unshackled me from the burdens of stigma and shame that I’d been carrying around since my own diagnosis 10 years prior.
I’d walked into TPAN dying of AIDS, with a T cell count of 30 inside of a woefully emaciated six-foot-four frame. Under Charles’ leadership, the people there provided me with the kind of unconventional social support that I needed to believe that I could follow my dreams. They also instilled in me the knowledge necessary for gaining and maintaining control of HIV. TPAN helped to nurse me back to health and Charles made it clear to everyone in the organization (including my beloved Jeff Berry, who was my immediate supervisor) that education was to be my priority. Because education is what I told him I wanted.
Long after Charles’ passing, the folks at TPAN continued to support my pursuit of education. I earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree while working there. After earning a doctoral degree in social service administration, I’m now an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago. My research is focused on how community-based organizations like TPAN ensure access to antiretroviral-based HIV prevention and treatment approaches, while equally emphasizing critical social service interventions that are also necessary to ensure that people living with HIV both live and thrive.
As I write this, I can relate more to the tiredness that Charles speaks of in “The Past, The Present, and The Future” than ever before. While so much in the world of HIV/AIDS has changed since Charles’ passing, a lot has not. The work continues to be mentally and emotionally taxing and I too carry my burdens in silence for the most part. Maybe that’s something I picked up from Charles. And perhaps revisiting this piece will prompt me to somehow proceed differently…
Keith R. Green, PhD, MSW, is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Loyola University in Chicago. He was formerly an associate editor of Positively Aware before becoming Director of Federal Affairs at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. He is an award-winning spoken word artist and was inducted into the Chicago LGBTQ Hall of Fame in 2012.
Editor’s Note / NOV+DEC 2001
Charles E. Clifton
I’m tired from John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and my father. I’m tired from the events of September 11, 2001. I’m tired for this nation. I’m tired for this world.
Positively Aware editor Charles E. Clifton died suddenly in 2004. This Editor’s Note by Charles first appeared in the November+December 2001 issue; it is presented here as it might appear today in the magazine. Note that this editorial was written years before the Swiss Statement and the era of U=U.
I’m tired from “tops” who believe they can’t contract HIV. I’m tired from “bottoms” who continue to roll the dice. I’m tired from irresponsible HIV-positive barebackers. I’m tired from irresponsible HIV-negative barebackers. I’m tired of the belief that barebackers are always gay men. I’m tired, because it ain’t true. I’m tired of condoms. I’m tired for everyone waiting for the results to come back from an HIV test. I’m tired.
I’m tired for intravenous drug users who share contaminated needles. I’m tired for men who refuse to use a condom. I’m tired for the women and men forced to have sex with men who refuse to use a condom. I’m tired for sex workers who can’t use a condom. I’m tired for young people who don’t have sex education. I’m tired of prevention that doesn’t seem to work. I’m tired.
I’m tired from individuals who promote conspiracy rather than care. I’m tired from those who don’t believe in re-infection. I’m tired from medications that make people sick rather than well. I’m tired from people who could, but don’t adhere. I’m tired for everyone in America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe who would adhere, but can’t. I’m tired from a system that profits from homelessness, hunger, and mental illnesses. I’m tired from illiteracy. I’m tired.
I’m tired from some that believe women and children, the incarcerated, and drug users don’t deserve our attention. I’m tired because some believe that gay men don’t deserve our attention. I’m tired from blacks that blame whites. I’m tired from whites that blame blacks. I’m tired from men who blame women. I’m tired from women who blame men. I’m tired from MSMs, SAMs, “trade,” and “on the down-low.” I’m tired of categories. I’m tired.
I’m tired of incompetent negatives. I’m tired of unqualified positives. I’m tired of bureaucracy. I’m tired of cynics. I’m tired of the hypocrites. I’m tired of the dishonesty. I’m tired because I don’t know what to do. I’m tired of being stressed, depressed, and overwhelmed. I’m tired because I don’t have time to do more. I’m tired because I don’t feel like doing more. I’m tired.
I’m tired from Slavery. I’m tired from Emancipation. I’m tired from Jim Crow. I’m tired from Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay/Lesbian Rights, and now Healthcare Rights. I’m tired from prejudice and hatred. I’m tired from ignorance. I’m tired that mistakes from the past continue to be repeated. I’m tired.
I’m tired from John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and my father. I’m tired from the events of September 11, 2001. I’m tired for this nation. I’m tired for this world. I’m tired for everyone who has ever lost someone to a senseless act of violence. I’m tired for everyone who will lose a loved one in the coming days, weeks, and months.
I’m tired of grieving. I’m tired of remembering. I’m tired of wondering. I’m tired that I still grieve the death of Antonio, who died 15 years ago on October 8th. I’m tired of marking the anniversary of his death. I’m tired of wondering what might have been. I’m tired of hoping. I’m tired of coping. I’m tired of dates that always remind me of how tired I am. I’m tired of wondering what’s next, who’s next. I’m tired of this road.
I’m just tired.
Charles E. Clifton