Over 100 people gathered at Malcom X College recently – on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day – for the premiere of the Chicago Department of Public Health’s documentary “HIV and the Journey Toward Zero.”
The film, in partnership with Tessa Films, highlights six Chicagoans living with HIV/AIDS. Through their stories, the one-hour long documentary shows the history and future of HIV/AIDS in Chicago.
City health data shows that AIDS diagnoses are at its lowest since 1985 and HIV cases rose just under 2% in 2021 from 2020. But Black Chicagoans are disproportionally affected – over half of the new AIDS diagnoses in 2021 were among Black Chicagoans.
The film, directed by Chan C. Smith, aims to highlight diverse stories of people affected by HIV while showcasing the latest treatments and CDPH’s goal to reach zero new HIV/AIDS cases by 2030.
“We are nearing a point in time where an end to this epidemic is on the horizon,” David Kern of the Syndemic Infectious Disease Bureau said at the premier. “What does it mean to end this as a person with HIV?”
During a panel discussion held after the film, HIV advocates featured in the documentary discussed their experiences living with HIV.
Evany Turk said Chicago saved her life through community, housing and therapy she received while living with HIV and raising a child.
“I was so ashamed the whole pregnancy, so depressed. I didn’t want to live. It was a bad, bad time, even in the hospital giving birth to that boy. That boy is now the joy of my life,” Turk said.
Sanford E. Gaylord shared how he lost two best friends to AIDS. “What really, truly helped me was going to outpatient therapy at a place called the Gateway Foundation,” he said.
“Mental health is real. I’m Black, first. Then I’m gay. Then I have HIV. Can you imagine living as a minority within a minority within a minority?”
Gaylord said the documentary is part one, and there will be a second documentary that focuses on a younger generation.
Dr. Cynthia Tucker of the AIDS Foundation Chicago said she works with many West Side organizations that provide HIV prevention and treatment, including the Austin Health Center, Erie Family Health Center and Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center. Rush and UI Health UIC both have HIV clinics and transgender centers.
Future screenings of the film will be updated at journeytowardzero.com.