This month, we are sharing the story of Andrea Walker, a 31-year-old author, mother and HIV/AIDS activist.
Andrea is the mother of five children, three of them are her biological children and the other two are her nieces. She’s single-handedly them raised since she was the young age of seventeen, after learning of her mother’s HIV-positive status at the age of ten years old. She struggled throughout her childhood to fit in, attended multiple schools and was displaced from home before finally graduating with honors. After being faced with several ultimatums, Andrea decided to pursue her dreams of becoming a writer.
At the age of eighteen, Andrea’s manuscript gained the attention of New York Times Best-Selling Author Terri Woods, but Andrea was too consumed with parenting to fully dedicate her time to writing. Determined to not allow her dream to slip away, Andrea continued her love for writing and founded iROC (Intelligently. Redefining. Our. Culture), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide children and families a vast amount of resources to nurture, mold and develop a superior view and understanding on the importance of knowledge.
In addition, iROC places extreme emphasis on HIV/AIDS outreach and awareness by hosting several events such as the annual Father Daughter Dance, Know Your Status Campaign and Red Tie Event. To learn more about Andrea, iROC and her experience in living with a mother who was HIV positive, read more below!
Red Pump: What is your personal connection to HIV/AIDS?
Andrea Walker: When I was ten years old, I learned that my mother was HIV positive. She battled for over twelve years with the disease and died on my son’s second birthday, just two days after Christmas in 2006. We live in a world where the negative stigma associated with HIV/AIDS still deters many from educating themselves, thus perpetuating the cycle of individuals being unaware. I believe the stats now read 1 in 7 people are infected, and unaware.
Red Pump: Do you believe stigma exists towards people living with HIV/AIDS and what actions have you taken to fight against the stigma?
Andrea Walker: Absolutely. In my personal life, I frequently speak with my children about HIV/AIDS and educate them on the importance of being educated about issues as such that can drastically affect our community and brutally crippled our family. In my professional life which gives me a larger platform through my nonprofit, iROC, I avidly host community events that provide HIV/AIDS awareness, onsite testing and counseling.
I am a conscious activist for HIV/AIDS awareness and last year I created the Know Your Status Campaign here in Philadelphia. At the event we tested nearly one hundred youth and provided a Red Tie Event to highlight those who were brave enough to take the pledge to continue to know their status. Each year, we hope to touch hundreds of lives during the campaign through HIV/AIDS testing, education and messaging to create awareness.
Red Pump: Are you involved in a relationship? What steps do you take to protect yourself and your partner?
Andrea Walker: Currently I am not in a relationship. After my divorce in 2008, I made a very conscious decision and promised myself that I would not engage in sexual intercourse with anyone who was not sure of their status or would not be willing to get tested with me. It is a very direct conversation and often happens on the first date. It sometimes catches people off guard but I find that people respect me much more afterwards and appreciate my concern for our well-being. In addition, I am a compulsive condom user.
Red Pump: When you need someone to talk to, who do you turn to?
Andrea Walker: I journal. I have been journaling for over fifteen years. I journal because the words on the paper won’t ever betray me. They won’t ever tell my secrets. My secrets and private thoughts are safe between those pages and I think more people should journal as a form of therapy. It’s very relieving and helps to rid stress and anxiety.
Red Pump: What do you want women to take away from your story?
Andrea Walker: It is my hope that women and people in general understand that your life is your life! You define the outcome. You can either be a victim or a victor.
Red Pump: What do you like to do during your free time?
Andrea Walker: During my free time, I like to write and work on new ideas that will further aid in the success of my career as an HIV/AIDS activist. I envision touching thousands of lives, and breaking negative stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS and the people who live with it. I envision living to see a cure. Also, I truly admire Red Pump for all of the work done in educating and creating awareness around HIV/AIDS. I hope to work with the organization in the near future to bring a chapter to Philadelphia.
Red Pump: What is your biggest accomplishment to date?
Andrea Walker: To date, my biggest accomplishment is successfully defying the odds. I went through a storm nearly my entire life and I came out whole, NOT broken. Also, I am excited about the release of my book, A Beautiful Struggle, which will be available this June.
Red Pump: Why do you #RocktheRedPump?
Andrea Walker: I #RocktheRedPump to symbolize strength amongst those who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS and to raise awareness about the epidemic.
“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.