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Red Pump Stories: Shaquille Roberts, Winner of the Walgreens Expressions Challenge

It’s National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD), a day that amplifies how HIV/AIDS is affecting young people in the United States.

Join us as we celebrate the importance of understanding HIV/AIDS among young men and women with a poem written by Shaquille Roberts, a sophomore at the Illinois Art Institute, who won first place in the 2010 Walgreens Expressions Creative Writing Category for her poem entitled “Death at a Funeral.”

Shaquille was recently a guest at our 6th Annual Rock the RED fashion show in Chicago, sharing this piece, and we wanted to give it space on our site too.

Photo: Shaquille Roberts, winner of Walgreens Expressions Challenge

Photo: Shaquille Roberts, winner of Walgreens Expressions Challenge

Death at a Funeral

by Shaquille Roberts

I walked into the funeral and I saw the look of my relative’s faces. Their cheeks were stained from the tears they cried that day. I don’t like funerals because they’re sad, but I had to come to this one. Not just because it was mine, but because I just can’t let go. I walked to the front of the funeral home and looked into the casket. There I was, looking more beautiful than ever before. Being born with HIV will change your appearance in the worst way possible. There were so many years of fighting this disease and it finally caught up with me.

There are a lot of facts people don’t know about HIV. For instance, you cannot get HIV from kissing, sneezing or just simply being in the presence of someone who has the illness. You can get it from unprotected sexual intercourse, blood contamination or, like me, you’re the offspring of someone who has HIV. I read an article once that said there is a 20 percent chance that a pregnant mother could pass HIV to her child without medication. I’m one of those unlucky ones. But another article said, without treatment, a child that has been infected lives on average for around two years. I’m part of the lucky few that lived to be 19 years old.

Now that I’m gone, who is going to teach people without HIV about the disease and persuade them to get tested? Who’s going to teach the ones coming into the world with this disease that the best way to control the disease and not let it control you is by putting on a condom before having sex and taking your medicine when you’re supposed to? Who’s going to show them how to fight this? Who’s going to help them find the strength to carry on and live life? It wasn’t my time to go. I didn’t achieve my goals and I still had work to do. I never got to tell my story. I never got to help others and influence lives.

At the funeral, some of the closest people in my life got up and spoke about me. My best friend went up to the podium and read a poem she wrote about me. “She never was afraid of this disease called HIV, it took over her body but it couldn’t have her spirit,” she read. This line stood out to me the most because this is exactly how I felt about having this sickness. It had my physically, but it couldn’t have my soul, my heart, my character or my self-esteem.

Next, my cousin approached the podium. She got up and spoke about how big a dreamer I was. I wanted to start my own program for HIV Awareness. I really wanted to help people in my same situation. It’s hard fighting HIV, but there is a way to fight it. I never let it take control of my life and me.

I heard my grandmother speak about how much of a fighter I was. This was true, but for the last eight years I really had to fight for my existence. Now it’s over. But, I’m not ready to let go. I was sitting in the front row next to my mom who has been battling HIV for almost 20 years. She was crying on my aunt’s shoulder as I held her hand. My mom and I had a bond like no other. We both had HIV so it just seemed like she understood everything I went through. From weight loss, sinus infections to depressions, she knew how hard it was for me to live with HIV.

My mom was the last to speak. She spoke about how I inspired people, including her. She said I was motivation for her. When she felt like giving up, I was there to lift her up. She told the crowd that I was an example for her. I was the example of what she wanted to be. If you didn’t know her, you wouldn’t even know that she was struggling with HIV. Hearing my family talk about me helped me put things in perspective. All I ever wanted to do was influence someone. My family’s words confirmed that I already have. I have achieved my goal and my purpose on this Earth has been fulfilled. Now I can let go.

About the Walgreens Expressions Challenge

Photo: Walgreens Expressions Challenge

Photo: Walgreens Expressions Challenge

The Walgreens Expressions Challenge is an incentive based contest for high school students ages 14 to 18 that allows teens to showcase their creative perspective on sexual responsibility and health lifestyle choice. The Expressions Challenge motivates teens to voice their opinion on critical life issues they face daily, including bullying, through creative writing, visual arts and media arts. The contest run October 1 through November 30. For more information visit

Red Pump Stories” is an initiative created to document the narratives, challenges, and successes of women living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. This project will further the mission of decreasing the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, and allow us to stand with women who have experienced first-hand the impact of this condition. 

Veronica Appleton is a marketing professional and contributing writer for the Red Pump Project in Chicago, IL. Visit Veronica’s websiteInstagramTwitter or LinkedIn  for more information.

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