As a 54 year old African American woman living with AIDS, I wish that I could say exactly when, where and how I contracted HIV. Unfortunately, those are questions very few of us infected with HIV/AIDS can answer with very much certainty. There is one indisputable fact; for many years, I lived a lifestyle that put me at risk again and again. I did not use IV drugs, but I was in a few relationships with men including my ex-husband, who were IV drug users. I think that the way I contracted the disease is not as important as how it changed my life. I like to think that I was living a normal healthy lifestyle prior to discovering my status, but I’d only be kidding myself and anyone else who knew me. I discovered that I was HIV when I was hospitalized in 1999 with a heart attack. The news sent me into a state of depression, denial, anger and fear, which I didn’t recover from for more than two years. Like many people, I didn’t know a thing about HIV at first and I didn’t try to learn anything. I was given a handbook about HIV/AIDS and a Resource Guide upon my first visit to the clinic. I tossed the books into the garbage as I was exiting the hospital. That has all changed now. Thanks to the Beautiful Gate Outreach Center, I have learned so much about this disease that I am now able to discuss it in an intelligent manner to anyone who ask me a question.

Beautiful Gate has afforded me the opportunity to meet some life-long good friends through the staff and our support group, “Caring Hearts.” I also attend a second support group called “We Care.” Beautiful Gate is also sponsoring me for a two-year fellowship at the African American HIV University in Los Angeles, CA. (Karen was initially rejected then called back one week later to participate. She was just a few months shy of graduating).

I can only say thanks to God, the Beautiful Gate Outreach Center, Bethel AME Church and the entire HIV/AIDS community, “ I am finally living as normal and close to a healthy lifestyle as I am physically able.”

 Sincerely, Karen W. (written 2005)

Karen passed away suddenly in 2006. In her honor, Beautiful Gate’s support group for women living with HIV was named ”Karen’s Dreamgirls!”