Man Finds New Purpose In Life and Work After Friend’s HIV Diagnosis

by d'ontace keyes

My name is D’Ontace Keyes. I am from Chicago, Illinois. In 2009, within Philadelphia, I was studying at the University of the Arts. It was my sophomore year and it was a really exciting year because I was really getting involved in both community and on campus. I was a part of this fraternity called Yu-Theta that was started by a peer of mine who wanted to bridge the gap of communication and bring fellowship to others among gay men on campus. I was also working at Philadelphia Fight, which was a local HIV/AIDS organization, working within their youth program. I was doing implementation of interventions but also doing some research work around trying to connect people to the organization and connect people to the great resources that they were providing – something that was very transactional so it’s something that I did with the drop of a dime.

So one day in December, the wintertime, one of my peers who was part of this group called Ladies of Service Society that she wanted to plan an event called the Sex Social, which would be an educational event but also an event where people can also get tested for HIV. So she asked me to coordinate it with my organization that I was working for. Also exciting time because testing has never happened on campus and most of the students did not know where to get resources to get HIV tests or even to get screened for an STD.

So as a fraternity, we all decided that we were going to get tested. I was helping coordinate that day, doing some of the education but also helping facilitate the registering for HIV testing. So I was in that role, but all of my line brothers decided that, yes we’re going to get tested to be example for the school.

So it came down to results time and the organization fight decided to deliver the results one by one by bringing people in because it was so many people. It was really exciting event. And as I seen each one of my brothers get called up within order, I noticed that one of my fraternity brothers, they asked him to wait. So I was a little concerned and my heart kind of dropped because I remember an experience in Chicago where I was passed up and where I had to wait and what was going through my head.

So he was one of the last individuals to receive his results. And I remember him coming out the room slowly and in shock. So right then and there, my heart dropped because I knew that his test came back reactive. I immediately went to him and I held my arms out and I just held him. I didn’t say anything to him, I just held him because I knew that there was no words that could express or could heal or could connect or wipe away what he was feeling in that moment.

Later that night, me and another friend of his, we just held him all night, loved on him, cried with him, as we prepared him for a visit the very next day so he can get a confirmatory tests to insure that, yes, his test came back reactive towards antibodies of HIV and that he was HIV positive. So I took him to his first appointment and, once again at Philadelphia Fight, and people are so caring for him, which made him feel good. I can see his soul lighting up. He went on to get engaged in care. He went on to finish college. He moved back to where he was originally from, but he continued on living a pretty good life.

After that incident, I knew that the way I did my work was going to have to change. To be less transactional, and to be more human. So I thought it would be a really good idea to institute regular HIV testing on campus. So I established PSPE – Peer Support, Peer Education – with a few friends of mine, where it was our objective to make sure that we make sure that students knew their status and had resources.

They’ve now made the service of the organization a part of regular services that they provide on campus.

I think that it’s important to show that even the simplest love from a classmate, from a frat brother, from someone just walking on the street, can really transform a person’s life. I think it’s really important to just be there, to be there in the capacity of this title as a friend, as a loved one, and just make sure the love is felt, is heard, and that it’s seen through your actions.

D'Ontace Keyes

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