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Individual Success Story: Arick
Given his circumstances, Arick could easily have slipped into crime, poverty and incarceration and stayed there. Instead, with help from Chicago House, he is now gainfully employed, working to re-engage HIV-positive clients who have avoided or fallen out of care, and leading advocacy efforts on HIV/AIDS-related legislative issues at the city, state and national levels. He energetically contributes to his community primarily because of the critical help he received when at a low point in his life.
A Disadvantaged Start
With few positive role models while growing up in a Chicago housing project, Arick believed that a life of crime was inevitable for him. Early drug use led to illegal activity to support that use, and he simply didn't see any positive options for his life. "I had no skills. After getting sober, I continued to do the crimes in order to survive," he says.
When Arick learned in 2004 that he was HIV-positive, he responded with denial and refused to consider treatment or planning for his future. About a year later, he entered prison on forgery charges. Fearing that accepting the diagnosis and starting treatment would lead to death, he avoided facing his condition. He now knows that this reasoning is common among other HIV-positive young men. But prison also brought him into contact with service providers and others who lived with HIV, who encouraged him to care for himself and plan for his future. With their support, Arick began to turnaround.
Finding Employment and Advocacy
Four months after his release from prison, Arick sought help with housing and employment at Chicago House, an HIV/AIDS service provider. Six months later, he was successfully working for Chicago House, reaching out to people whose experiences poverty, drug use, incarceration he shared and understood. "The services that had the most impact in my life were the intensive employment preparation and the employment support service," he says.
Now an unwavering advocate for others, Arick heads the Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy, which he helped to found, at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. In this role, he has testified on behalf of persons living with HIV/AIDS at the Illinois General Assembly and in Washington, D.C., in front of Congress.
Paying it Forward
Through his work, Arick has discovered a passion for advocacy. In addition to his full-time job, he works tirelessly to collect petition signatures, staff phone banks and speak on behalf of people affected by or at risk for HIV, all while continuing to work at Chicago House as an HIV tester/counselor and facilitating HIV support groups at Jackson Park Hospital. Through all of these activities, Arick supports his own health and lives a rich life, today serving as the positive role model he needed so much to countless others.