Wesley Alphonse has never known life without HIV.
Infected at birth, Alphonse is a survivor’s story from a perspective that is not often publicized. Now 23, the healthy young man from Broward County joins nine other brave young people participating in a new exhibit at the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center.
Unveiled Friday night, Nov. 20, at the museum’s Wilton Station location, the exhibit is titled “Owning Up: Stories of Poz Millennials.” It features video interviews and portrait pictures of millennials infected or affected by the HIV virus.
“A lot of the publicity around HIV/AIDS really goes back to the generation that grew up in the 80s and 90s and that’s an important part of history, but there’s a whole other story being told now,” said WAM Chief Executive Officer Hugh Beswick.
Beswick noted Broward County has the highest conversion rate of HIV cases in the nation with roughly 150 new infections in people under the age of 24 every year. For that reason, WAM is partnering with Broward County Schools to launch an educational initiative aimed at reducing the infection rate.
Broward School Board Chairwoman Dr. Rosalind Osgood attended the exhibit opening and is a member of the WAM board of directors. Beswick said there are presently 33 Broward schools designated as priority schools to receive HIV/AIDS education.
The first step in this process is seeking role models confident enough to share their story.
“This has been an amazing experience for us. We had quite a challenge to get 10 people who are young who are willing to stand up and talk about what it’s like to be living with HIV,” Beswick.
The 10 include: Kaitlyn Nicholson, Jason King, Anthony Lanni, Adam Nooe, Alejandro Acosta, Billy Gall, Travis St. Louis, Marco Benjamin, Wesley Alphonse and Dominic Quarles. All are photographed portrait style by Fort Lauderdale photographer Myro Rosky.
Ed Sparan, WAM Operations Manager, introduced the faces of the exhibit to the public. Sparan said the group represents an estimated 33 million people worldwide currently living with HIV.
Of the 10, Alphonse and Quarles were born with HIV. Quarles said he takes his pills every day and Alphonse simply said he tries to live each day “positively.”
“This affects people for the balance of their lives,” Beswick said. “We need to remember that. It is really a big deal.”
Quoting U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Beswick told the reception crowd, “It’s the not the years in your life that counts, it’s the life in your years that count.”
The exhibit is underwritten by Sun Trust Bank.
What: “Owning Up: Stories of Poz Millennials”
Where: World AIDS Museum, 1201 NE 26th Street, Suite 111, Wilton Manors, Fla., 33305
More Info: 954-390-0550 or WorldAIDSMuseum.com