John Henry Rombough-Davie shares with us the speech he gave to commemorate his AIDS Service Organization's twenty-fifth anniversary on “The importance of having ACCKWA in my life.”
Good Afternoon Everyone.
My name is John Henry Rombough-Davie, I’m formerly from London, Ontario where I was adopted as an infant in November, 1962. My adoptive parents raised me as one of their own of course, and never judged me along the way.
The reasons why I became a story teller……………….I was searching for ways to continue my everyday existence. I’d been living a life of glory, you might say, with respect to my career as a professional ballet dancer, having trained for 10 years and toured the country extensively for 7 years dancing lead roles with four different companies. This became my ultimate dream in life since the age of 10, and I’ve never looked back for having made this decision. I suppose you can all imagine the struggles I had throughout my earlier years because of having made this choice, which begged the assumption that I must be gay. Let me simply say that during those years I was the only male dancer in my dance school which made me stand out, coming from a small town.
In March 1993, I was overwhelmed with shame when my former family physician in London informed me he could no longer treat me as his patient, upon my HIV diagnosis, since he was only a general practitioner. Needing a change in my life, I moved to Kitchener in 1995 and eventually hooked up with ACCKWA, the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area, with whom I have been a client and volunteer with since 1997.
ACCKWA’s Speaker’s Bureau is an essential way for people living with HIV/AIDS to tell their stories to the general public to affect behavior change. In 2010 a theatrical production of Rent was done in Waterloo Region. I was asked to share my story with the young performers, and it was so inspiring for them to be performing that evening, having just had face to face contact with someone who is living with HIV/AIDS.
Last year I was invited to speak at Eastwood Collegiate in front of an audience of 450 students, and yes I was scared. It was not until I arrived through the front doors that I realized it was an ARTS School. A ton of bricks was lifted off my shoulders at that moment, as I was proud to be walking into a school which was in line with what inspired my own former inspirations in life. A moment I’ll never forget is having just been introduced and receiving a round of applause before I even spoke! Again, the students were seeing the face to the virus, rather than just reading or hearing stories about it, which may or may not have been reliable sources. After I spoke, a young gentleman came up to me in tears, and indicated his uncle is HIV-positive, and he now felt better informed to have open conversations with him regarding his own diagnosis.
In 2007 I was stricken with a parasitic infection that nearly killed me. This progressively took over my body to the point where I was eventually hospitalized, weighing only 90 lbs. I spent two months in Freeport Hospital where I had to learn to speak, walk and write again, as I was partially paralyzed as a result of the parasite. I believe my years of training contributed to my recovery, as did my will to live. But nothing compares to the support I received from family, friends and the staff of ACCKWA which has led me to where I am now.
My involvement with ACCKWA has helped me to feel connected with myself again, I also connect with others a lot more easily. I feel empowered knowing I’m helping others to cope with day to day living, and this also helps me to not feel so disconnected and isolated. It has provided me with experiences to become a better person in the community, and not to feel ashamed of myself when I decide to educate about HIV/AIDS. I also recognize the importance of giving back to an agency that is reaching out to the community for the good of others.
Just a couple of months ago I received my 15-year Ontario Volunteer Service Award,; as well I was selected to receive the Gretchen Sangster Education Award from ACCKWA. Just this past month, I was invited back to the Volunteer Action Centre to elaborate more on my story of living with HIV to help educate other potential volunteers on the importance of volunteering in our community.
In 2011, I began blogging for an HIV online magazine (PositiveLite.com) and the first few months I blogged about my experiences of having been cast in the Laramie Project, based on the Matthew Sheppard story, performed at SIZZLE in Cambridge, Onatrio back in April. The roles I played were Matthew’s father, the retired police officer who was on the case, as well as, the retired barofwner of the establishment where Matthew was picked up by his killers. This performance was intended to bring about awareness of bullying amongst youth. This whole experience again hit home for me, with regards to the bullying I had to contend with while growing up, with respect to some of the choices I made for myself.
This year marks the 25th Anniversary of ACCKWA, and I’m so proud to have been a part of this agency for the past 15 years. I honestly don’t have any clue where my life would be today, had ACCKWA not been here for me. I’m proud to say that the gay men’s sexal health worker for ACCKWA and myself gathered $2,200 in donations last year and raised $1,100 from them at the 1st annual Wrap It Up party, following the World AIDS Day candlelight vigil, which we hope to double this year. ACCKWA now has their own memorial plaque; as well the first stages of our own AIDS memorial quilt are being completed, to be unveiled Dec 1st, 2012. This past year I’ve joined the TTOA (Turning Toward One Another) Working Group, and this group helps encourage people living with HIV/AIDS and staff of ACCKWA and its Board of Directors to ‘turn to one another’, as a way to better communicate.
Thank you for taking the time to commemorate this special day of both remembering and honoring with all of us. Please feel free to pull me aside this afternoon to answer any of your questions. Thank you