Candles flickered on the courthouse steps as community members held them in unity to support 34 million people worldwide.
One of them is Kenneth Cook, a Clinton resident who shared a special testimony for World AIDS Day, which is on Dec. 1 every year. The local observance was hosted by the Sampson County HIV/AIDS Task Force.
Cook has lived with the infection for a long time. It’s been more than 20 years. He found out after having thrush, an infection of the mouth and throat by a yeast-like fungus.
“It got so bad that I had to go to the county health department,” Cook said. “They took my blood and you know how that works out.”
At that time, Cook said the only type of drug available was Zidovudine, which is used to treat the HIV infection, which leads to AIDS. But now, more programs are available people like him.
“They didn’t have any kind of programs, so I didn’t get any type of treatment and went on for about a year or so,” Cook said.
He later had pneumonia and receive treatment in the hospital for about a month and a half. After being released, he said his life changed a little through treatments to help with his struggle.
“I made some bad choices, but till this very day, I still haven’t really come to terms with it,” he said.
He expressed how it effected his personal life, when it comes to having relationships. But despite the hardships, Cook said he want to help others.
“I got to to do something,” he said.
After his testimony, Cook was applauded by members of the task force for sharing his story. One of the members is survivor Thomas McLaughlin Jr., who serves a chairman of the organization. He spoke about the theme “Leadership, Commitment, Impact.”
“Everybody is involved in leadership, not just one person, not just two, but everybody. That makes it universal,” McLaughlin said.
When it comes to AIDS, he stressed the importance of education and organizations coming together to spread awareness and to help others.
“We can not do this alone, we need one another and we need other agencies to help us,” McLaughlin said. “We need the whole community to help us. That’s what leadership, commitment and impact is all about.”
Courtney Boyette of Eastpointe spoke about the history of World AIDS Day, which provides an opportunity for people to unite in a fight against HIV/AIDS and to show support for those who died from it. It’s the first global health day and was first observed in 1988. More than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
“Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition,” Boyette said. “World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away, there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.”
Lisa McKeithan, a Special Projects of National Significance Project Manager from CommWell Health, presented the objectives of the event. Some of them include bringing people together to spread awareness, promoting activism and community mobilization.
Some of the other members and supporters of the task force included Mary Brown, Judy Johnson-Truitt and members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
The local celebration on the courthouse steps was one of several held throughout North Carolina and the world. Lee Storrow, executive director of the NC AIDS Action Network, stated that World AIDS Day is an opportunity to remember and reflect on people who have died from HIV and AIDS.
“But it also must be an opportunity to stand up and speak out about what we need to do to end the epidemic,” Storrow said. “Maintaining a strong AIDS Drug Assistance Program, expanding access to (pre-exposure medicine) through our county health departments and investing in prevention so that young people have the tools and information they need to stop the spread of HIV. These are the tools to end AIDS as we know it in North Carolina. The only question is will our local, state, and national political leaders have the courage to act.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.