World AIDS Day – Celebration or Remembrance?

By Khafre Kujichagulia Abif

I can remember the first time I acknowledged World AIDS Day in my own journey. Having been diagnosed in 1989, I lived my life in silence. I hadn’t told my MaDear, my sisters or even my best friend. It was in 1991 that I shared my status with the woman I was dating. I shared my status because I wanted to ask her to marry me. So, I told her, and we got married and had a son born on November 18, 1992.

The silence was killing me, so I started writing letters to my son. In fear of how long I would live, I wanted him to know me from my own voice.  It wasn’t until 1996 that I first acknowledged World AIDS Day. This is what I wrote to my son.

December 1, 1996

Alafia Amenhotep,

Today is World AIDS Day. I celebrated in silence once again. I did remember a prayer I saved on my computer at work.

For People with HIV/AIDS

Dear God, you are comforter, confidant, and hope. I come to you, Lord, for with you I can be totally free. In you, I seek peace from physical pain in this body that surpasses my understanding and gives me relief from physical pain, emotional distress, and spiritual disconnectedness. Ease my burdens of living with HIV/AIDS, Lord, as only you can do. Give me a calm, quiet spirit in the midst of this struggle. Unto you, Lord, I give my spirit, for you are my hope and joy. I love you, Lord, I place my trust, today, tomorrow, and always. Amen – Reverend Meriann Taylor.

Someone is praying for us.


During these years World AIDS Day was neither a celebration or a remembrance. It was a day which highlighted my internal battle of self-stigma, fear and shame until I heard of people which I knew who had made their transition from AIDS-related complications. The shit got very real. I then decided to tell my MaDear and sisters about my status.

It was my MaDear’s response which freed me from it all. After praying over me, and crying with me, she embraced me and said, “You are my child and I love you. There is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to fear. God already has a plan for your life. Just you wait and see.”

After that, I began quietly doing advocacy in State Prevention Planning, Ryan White Council and I even joined a support group which allowed me to come out of the social isolation I had trapped myself in since being told, “You have HIV.”

Everything began to change for me. I began to fight for my life and to live. I celebrated World AIDS Day for my own life by calling my MaDear and my sisters to share with them what World AIDS Day is all about. I also held space in remembrance for those who made their transition which I knew personally and for the many thousands who were unknown to me.

It was an extension of my remembrance from visiting the Mall of Washington.

October 12, 1996

Alafia Amenhotep,

I went to Washington, D.C., today for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which is on display at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The day was filled with a number of different emotions, but overall I am glad I took the time and found a way to get there.

There were so many panels on the Mall. The quilt panels represented people who have died from AIDS. There were many thousands of people in attendance. I have never been on the Mall filled with so many people and it be so quiet. I shot about four rolls of film and cannot wait to see how they turn out.

I could not help thinking about a quilt in memory of myself. What would it look like? Who would make it? Who would keep it? There were many families on the Mall, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, someone’s wife, and others’ husbands. I thought of you so many times throughout the day. You kept me going and so did witnessing all of the people in support for the fight against HIV/AIDS.


I have come a long way since 1996. This year’s World AIDS day will be both a celebration, because I have been living 33 years beyond my diagnosis. My son just turned 30 years old. My health is great and I have made some contribution in this fight against HIV/AIDS and HIV-related stigma. I will once again hold space for those hundreds of thousands of people we have lost in this battle.

World AIDS Day is a reminder that as we continue to live there are still many others who are not. It’s a reminder that HIV/AIDS is still in the killing business and we must never forget the battle is not over until testing is routine for all adults, everyone has access to care and treatment, there is an uptake of PrEP among Black and Brown folx, women, and youth, and HIV-related stigma has ended.