World AIDS Day and The Fiscal Cliff

By Jack Kelly

As another World AIDS day comes to fruition and slides into history, it is important we rediscover our complicated relationship as a human species with HIV/AIDS.   In my lifetime, no disease or virus has had the psychological and collective impact as the “virus that causes AIDS” has.  The “virus” as it sometimes called, both negatively and endearingly depending on the messenger, has been in my life almost since inception.

I can remember the moment in finite details.  I was up the Boys and Girls club in Charlestown (a neighborhood in Boston) and the TV was ‘illuminated’ as I saw Magic Johnson on TV looking solemn.  It was On November 7, 1991, which would have made me 10 years old.  At such a tender age, medical details and situational circumstances of how Magic contracted this “thing that was making him look so sad and other’s around me stare in disbelief” were elusive.  However, the impact of that moment was persistently burned in my psyche.

On that fateful November 7th day when Magic shocked the world and announced he had tested positive for HIV,  it had the impact of a seismic earthquake in the collective psyche of America.   His declaration was pertinent for a variety of reasons, most notably for ushering into the fabric of the country and the world, a new cultural shift.

Before Magic stepped to the podium on that day and uttered the words “I have HIV,” the perception of HIV/AIDS was of a deadly disease that would never inflict a “hero” like Magic Johnson, or a ‘normal’ person such as myself.

Whatever normal is or defined by those who aspire to be it.

As time and I ticked forward, more details became available about the “Virus.”  As with all things born of ignorance, some  dispensatory information was flat-out insane and inaccurate.  But the basics seemed to reside on a few points; many young gay men and IV drug users were contracting the virus and because of Magic, we were finally seeing and being told that HIV was not biased.  Meaning, HIV is a truly bipartisan and non-racially caring entity, unlike us humans.  As a virus, it only concerns itself with invading the human body.



Your sexual preference, political views, racial identity or musical tastes’ are not considered when trying to enter.  HIV simply wants in.  If you’re human, it loves you.  In some ways, we as a species could learn something from virus’s such as HIV, but that is a subject for another time.

After Magic, everything changed.  Doctors, community health centers, politicians, the government, both locally and federally albeit slowly, became fixated on the virus.  HIV/AIDS became the trendiest disease in the country.  Sure no one necessarily wanted it, but many, and for good and altruistic reasons, wanted to be apart of the movement.

“The movement” was varied and nuanced.  Some were trying to find a cure.  Some focused on awareness and educating people about practicing safer habits, such as distributing condoms.  Others were concerned with finding effective treatment for those who were HIV + and slowing the progress of the virus as to not cause AIDS.  But what all of these collective efforts had in common was trying to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Since the time of Magic, so much progress has been made in the fight against HIV, it is possible that all of the aforementioned efforts helped me and countless other’s from contracting it.

As any reader of mine knows, I battled drugs and more specifically needle specific heroin addiction.  How I ended up being addicted to heroin is a longer story for some other published time.  But the point being, when I was that 10 year old kid watching Magic up the Boys and Girls Club, I could have never known how much that announcement may have had on my actual life.

As a result of my addiction, I participated in every high risk behavior one could ever involve themselves in.  And yet when, by the grace of some higher entity that some refer to as God, and on occasion I do as well; I somehow  separated myself from the most powerful entity one could ever encounter and I was not HIV positive.


I was not the only one.  Many other journey challenged souls also were negative.  But how?  We had just engaged  in one of the worst drug epidemics in American history and no one was HIV +?  I mean, it’s not like we were specially immune individuals incapable of  contracting anything.  After all, I did have Hepatitis C and many of them did as well.  So how did such a miraculous thing occur?

Turns out, nothing miraculous occurred, at least not in the biblical sense of the word.  The ‘miracle,’ was actually cold hard cash and people power that had been dedicated to solving the many issues the HIV/AIDS outbreak caused.  Because activists, donations and most importantly, the government made fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS a priority, people such as myself are allowed to continue the journey of life without HIV/AIDS.  In addition, those who do have it, are allowed to live a full and promising life because of the medical advancements.

HIV is no longer a death sentence.

In my title, I mentioned the “Fiscal Cliff.”  It is a political term concerning a budget fight between President Obama and congress.  Without boring you with all of the details, the fiscal cliff, if not averted will cut billions of dollars from programs and automatically raise everyone’s taxes to pre-Bush levels.

One particular item that will be dramatically effected will be funding for all of those aforementioned life saving,  HIV/AIDS programs.  According to the Boston based group ACT UP, “more than half a billion dollars ($659 million) from domestic HIV/AIDS programs that fund services such as HIV counseling, testing, case management, nutritional and housing assistance. And Massachusetts is facing state level cuts amounting to $5 million, which will decimate state HIV/AIDS programs. In Massachusetts alone there are an estimated 28,000 people living with HIV and over 650 new HIV diagnoses each year.”

Specifically, this means those who are poor or lower middle class, will have a difficult time receiving their medicine, thus allowing HIV to develop more rapidly into AIDS.  So beside the obvious moral imperative, cutting these programs will halt the progress we have made as a society in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and helping those who have it.

Solving the fiscal crisis of our country is important for a variety of reasons, but doing anything but increasing funding for HIV/AIDS programs is illogical and immoral.  (What would Jesus do????)

Over 21 years ago as an innocent 10 year old boy, I watched a basketball legend announce he had HIV and it seemed likely he would soon die.  But not only is Magic still alive, but he is thriving and inadvertently saved my life and millions of others.

Don’t let DC cut those programs.  Who knows, it may save your son or daughters life someday.  Strange how this thing called life sometimes works.



Now enjoy this classic U2 song about a girl who was hooked on heroin, called “Running to Stand Still/Dirty Old Town” Live in Dublin








One Response to World AIDS Day and The Fiscal Cliff

  1. Jerald says:

    Really liked what you had to say in your post, World AIDS Day and The Fiscal Cliff | Coffee with Caesar, thanks for the good read!
    — Jerald

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