Four ordinary-looking men and women sat at a panel Thursday night, each with two things in common; they were all HIV-positive, and all of them once believed that “It Can’t Happen To Me.”
Each panelist told their story about how they contracted HIV, as well as their reactions to the diagnosis.
Chris Pasquarelli, a panelist, contracted AIDS when he was 20 and suffered severe depression when he first learned of his diagnosis.
“After I found out, I tried to commit suicide four times, figuring it’s a death sentence,” Pasquarelli said. “’I’m gonna die anyway, why not just do it now?’”
David Joseph, another panelist, was born with HIV and said he struggled with being different from an early age.
“I said, ‘Mom, how come I’m the only one in my class that has to be called out of class every day to take meds? What are these meds? How come I get sick so much? Why do I have to see the doctor more than anyone else has to? What’s going on, what is wrong with me?’” Joseph said.
Despite coming from different backgrounds, each panelist made the decision to reach out to change peoples’ outlook on HIV.
Tree Alexander, a panelist who contracted HIV when he was 20, said the disease never affected his goals in life.
“I would say it hasn’t changed much, ‘cause even when I was a kid, I wanted to change the world, and I think this is part of changing the world,” Alexander said.
Leanna Thorton, a panelist also born HIV-positive, made it clear to the audience that her personality came before her virus.
“How I dealt with love, having sex and stuff, was I let them get to know me first before I actually told them,” Thorton said. “You got to get to know me before you get to know HIV.”
Shantel Smith, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said she admired the panelists’ bravery in talking about their experiences.
“I thought the panel was great,” Smith said. “It’s quite amazing for people to come up and [sharing] their stories with the world takes a lot of courage.”
We Speak BU hosted the third annual “It Can’t Happen To Me” panel in honor of World AIDS Day, which takes place on Dec. 1.
“HIV has no face,” said Shantae Blount, senior adviser at We Speak BU and a senior majoring in graphic design. “The moral of the story is that HIV and AIDS can happen to anyone, and that life isn’t over.”
Clarice Hampton, president of We Speak BU and a senior majoring in psychology, said the event was necessary to combat prejudices against HIV-positive people.
“It’s important because the stigma of AIDS is prevalent, and by bringing this panel together, we can show how HIV can happen to anyone, and people can live with it,” Hampton said.
As people entered the event, they received paper leaves and were asked to write how AIDS has affected their lives. At the end of the panel, the leaves were arranged to make a tree, symbolizing how AIDS can affect anyone and that everyone is connected.