I Found My Purpose While Aging With HIV

There is something about the age of 50 that changes you. For some, there is dread and a sense of disappointment with the lack of accomplishment. While others are motivated to begin living their lives with a sense of purpose. For me, it was a little of both.

I reached the age of 50 on September 17, 2007. I was well into my career in IT and 10 years into my relationship with my now-husband, Stewart. I began feeling anxious; material possessions, a beautiful home, a stable relationship, and an active social life were no longer enough. I needed more, I was at the beginning of a journey. A journey to find my purpose. A dream that is just being implemented today.

Living with HIV was something that I dealt with by keeping busy. I only discussed it with my husband as we dealt with medication changes or side effects. I was determined it would not be the center of my life, preferably not to deal with it at all. But, that magic number 50 was getting closer. It dawned on me: I'm still here and healthy. “I'm not going to die,“, but am I prepared to live?” I asked myself as the golden anniversary of my life approached.

You see, part of putting HIV on the back burner meant that I lived my life up to that point quite carefreely. My husband and I spent money with no plans for the future. We lived  for today. Three vacations a year. Clubbing at least three weekends a month, sometimes during the week as well. As the big 5-0 approached, I looked at my 401k and our savings balances and decided changes needed to be made.

However,  changing habits ingrained since the day I was diagnosed at 39, as well as the bad habits I carried into that day, was not easy. It took years to put together a realistic budget Stewart and I could stick too. It took years to restrain ourselves from taking that spontaneous trip. Today, we actively work through our financial plan and make sure, before we make any large purchases or plan any trips; we have analyzed the impact to our retirement plan. I am not saying we are 100% ready to retire luxuriously, but we are more prepared and less stressed than we would be if we had not made a change. 

Getting our financial house in order was important. As I mentioned it took years. However, the epiphany came when I asked myself, “What is my purpose?”

In 2015, while on the SGL cruise, I attended a motivational workshop. In one of the exercises, we were asked to think of something we would do for the community if we were unencumbered by our current full-time employment. I stepped up to the front and started speaking. I surprised myself by disclosing my HIV status, and I went on to say that I understand how blessed I am to be living with HIV and doing so well, but I wanted to find a way to help others. After that workshop, I began to explore various volunteer opportunities at organizations such as In the Life Atlanta, Georgia Equality, and AARP. I helped out with a retreat weekend for the Reunion Project. I stumbled, still not knowing exactly where I fit, but I knew I wanted to make a difference.

One day a friend of mine, who was in the workshop on the cruise, messaged me on Facebook and asked if I would come to a meeting of a group he was involved with for black men living with HIV. I was amazed by how many guys I knew were in this group discussing their HIV status. In a subsequent meeting, the leader of the group asked for ideas. What could we do differently to support black men living with HIV? I raised my hand and expressed my desire to help black men aging with HIV. He then gave me the charge.

“Come up with a plan but remember, you own it,” he said.

In turn, I was baffled, intimidated, and even a little angry. I didn't come here to do it all myself. I came looking for help. But, as it turned out, that is just what I needed. This charge, this challenge forced me to crystallize my goals and to articulate my purpose. I was going to build a support system for black gay men over the age of 50 living with HIV.

Out of that challenge (and decision), Mature Men of Color was created on February 27, 2016 with the following mission:

"To support the creation of a safe virtual village for mature African American men living with HIV. We will host and sponsor social events, community outreach, and advocate for health and welfare issues impacting our community."

A few years of stops and starts, significant input and support from group members, and a grant from Gilead Sciences, the group has grown to what is currently The Silver Lining Project. With 72 members, a curriculum designed to educate and support our members through aging, trauma and PTSD, loss and stigma, and to motivate them to engage in political advocacy.

It took that magic number of 50 to start thinking about my purpose and then 12 years to articulate and implement my dream. Now it's time to do the work necessary to nurture it and grow.

Malcolm Reid has been working with THRIVE SS to support black men living with HIV for the last 4 years. He is a co-author and Program Manager of the Silver Lining Project; a program to support and advocate for black gay men over the age of 50, living with HIV.  

He is also the co-founder and co-director of PASAN, the Political and Social Action Network. He represents THRIVE SS on the USPLHIV Caucus Steering Committee, where he is co-chair of the Federal Policy subcommittee, and he represents Fulton County, Ga. district 2 on the Fulton County HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care and Policy Advisory Committee. A strong believer in MIPA (Meaningful Involvement of People Living with HIV/AIDS), Malcolm works hard to keep black men living with HIV aware of public policy and politics and how to advocate effectively. 

Malcolm is also a corporate leader. An Associate Director of Technology with AT&T, where he leads a team of Software Engineers.  

Malcolm met and began a relationship with his husband, Stewart Nelson-Reid in 1997. They were not married until September of 2015, because they refused to be married until marriage equality was settled law in Georgia. The Obergefell v. Hodges, Supreme Court decision made their marriage legal. 

Malcolm and Stewart love traveling, riding roller coasters and other adrenaline-pumping activities like skydiving. 

Favorite phrase: “Politics is not a spectator sport.”

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