Words to live by: never surrender
World AIDS Day prompts Kengi to turn his back on traditional ways of marking the day. “My World AIDS Day celebration was for me and it was private, but I was surrounded by love and positive energy” he says.
Last weekend marked World AIDS Day and I must say I avoided doing anything HIV or AIDS related. Not because I’m ashamed or afraid of someone knowing my status, but because I’m simply burnt out and to be very honest I’m sick of hearing the same information time and time again. I simply did not want to spend one second looking at slides or hearing about some study.
The week leading into World AIDS Day I made a deliberate effort to think of my cousin, two people who were like family to me and several people that I provided peer support for in hopes of finding a way to honor and celebrate them without having to listen to drug companies and ASO’s pat themselves on the back for all the great work they’re doing.
After much thought, prayer and meditation I decided the best way to honor those whom I’ve known personally would be to LIVE and celebrate my own life. I know each of them would not want anyone they knew, loved and cared about sitting some place with people who don’t know them feeling sad or any sorrow because they are no longer here. If they could get a message to me, I know that message would, “Kengi go live your life to the fullest. That is the best way to honor me”
Then I started to think of how I’d like for my family and friends to remember me and although I know I can’t control how people will mourn my transition, I could at the very least set the stage. I want my friends to celebrate, throw a party and have a good time. I want my services to be happy and upbeat with a huge gospel choir rocking the church forcing everyone to their feet to clap their hands, stomping their feet and sending me home. I don’t want to be remembered for being HIV positive, a cancer survivor or someone with Sickle Cell. I want to be remembered and celebrated as a man who lived an incredible life and surrounded himself with incredible people. I want to be remembered and celebrated for who I am, not what disease I've lived my entire life with, conquered or became infected with.
"I have HIV, but HIV DOES NOT have me. I’m in control and HIV is just along for the ride. It will NEVER become my GPS."
So I celebrated World AIDS Day, by celebrating me and I did it in the company of some of my awesome friends, fellow artists and photographers. The subject of HIV and the fact that it was World AIDS Day never even came up. They already know I’m HIV positive and they don’t care. Moreover HIV does not define me; it does not shape who I am or what I can accomplish. I have HIV, but HIV DOES NOT have me. I’m in control and HIV is just along for the ride. It will NEVER become my GPS.
If I could put my finger on just one thing about HIV that I could share with someone who becomes HIV positive or someone already diagnosed, it would be me telling them “never surrender” Not to HIV and all the shit that goes along with it. Because as quiet as it is kept, there’s lots of shit that comes from the people, places and things that are supposed to be in line to assist us. “Never surrender” to your life being over or that you are no longer able to live an abundant life or fall in love whomever you choose. “Never surrender” to the HIV closet, don’t allow ANYONE to push you into the darkness of HIV where you become a prisoner worrying about everything. Take a moment to find yourself, hold yourself, love yourself, then get up and tell HIV to have a damn seat. Your life is not over…….only if you want it to be. “Never surrender” to the groupthink mentality that all your friends now need to be HIV positive or that your dating choices are now limited to people who HIV ONLY. “Never surrender” who you are, what you love and what your dreams are, because they are still possible.
So I spent the entire weekend surrounded by friends, people I admire, respect and love and people I know who admire, respect and love me. I surrounded myself with amazing art, incredible music, great vibes, smiles and plenty of laughter. All made possible by my friend and fellow artist Carlos who hosted a Hip Hipsters Affordable Art Show. I had the chance to speak with and share ideas with fellow artist and even though I no longer raise my voice in song or sit down at the piano, I was so inspired and encouraged by the awesome musical artists who provide an awesome backdrop to the entire weekend.
Even though the rain was persistently on and off all weekend, it couldn’t stop the magic. We laughed at the rain and didn't allow it to spoil our spirits and joy in any way. As I looked over the people who had gathered my spirit confirmed with me that there were others around me having their own celebrations over the challenges life has thrown on their paths. By the smiles on their faces I could tell that those challenges were no match for them and just like me, they too will “never surrender”
I couldn't have asked for or even planned a better way to celebrate my life and even honor the lives of those whom I know personally have died due to AIDS, then to be gathered in Silverlake with angels from the City of Angels holding space. My World AIDS Day celebration was for me and it was private, but I was surrounded by love and positive energy.