Introducing the Silver Streak. Over the next few months... years I will be talking to and writing about various people and events for the Silver Lining group. Topics will be about Black men living with HIV who are over the age of 50. Our concerns, our joys and pain. Our sunshine and rain. Our beauty and our wisdom…
Who Am I?
Hartsel. Clifton. Shirley. Put them all together and you have no idea for sure what you’re going to get sight unseen. I am a Black man from Waterloo, Iowa. Iowa – not Idaho. And yes, there are Black people in Iowa, a whole lot of them. It wasn’t until I wrote my latest book, The Night Eddie Sallis Died, that I came to know how Black folks got to Iowa, or why I was brought up by parents who were so over-protective of me and my siblings.
In school, I excelled in reading and writing and took to it like a bird takes to flying. Being the eldest, the experiment, the first, I had to brave it outside of the home alone on my own and it would be my lot in life it seems. I knew I liked boys at an early age, an age too young and innocent for sexual attraction. By the time high school came around, the social constructs had conditioned me to hide myself. By graduation time, “that really quiet nice guy” was about to face yet another area of uncharted territory, alone, yet with the rest of the world – the reality of AIDS.
The first relationship/first love was an abusive one – sexually, emotionally and physically. By the time I was done with it, or it was done with me, I thought I would escape the abuse and start over by joining the Armed Forces, yet that escape plan was thwarted by a letter I received in the mail from them telling me I had tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus – they spelled it out, at that time - there was no H.I.V. Of course, I hid it. I did my utmost best to read every article that I could get my hands on to try and take care of myself. I joined church with the idea in my heart of ‘whatever you can make of this life, God, here it is’.
Now 32 years after the rape which caused the transmission, through depression, loneliness, love and heartbreaks I have survived. From 18 up to now 50 years old, I have managed to beat the odds against me…and I thrive.
Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley, Silver Lining Project
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