Staying afloat - and helping others tread water as they manage their HIV status

For some people living with HIV and AIDS, staying afloat each day is no easy task. But when they have a counselor and peer in the water with them, it can make treading water that much easier.

As a health educator for Project VIDA, John Dawkins is one of those people who jumps in the water with his clients and tread the waters with them.

He’s been in the water by himself — he knows what it’s like to be treading water alone. Shortly after Dawkins finished his service with the United States Marine Corps, he tested positive for HIV. The year was 1996; with the limitations in HIV/AIDS treatments back then, Dawkins faced hardships with the toll his medicines’ side effects took on his body. Shortly after his diagnosis, he began to attend support groups at the local Department of Veteran Affairs.

Almost 20 years later, after a full decade of advocacy in the community, Dawkins continues to be inspired to serve his community. What started as his healing space — support groups for people living with HIV — soon became his teaching space. He makes a difference through his duties at Project VIDA, which has served more than 173,700 clients in Chicago’s heavily-populated Latino/Latina and African-American neighborhoods. “My inspiration is to see people smile, when people come to me one way and leave another.” 

He also speaks out for legislative support of HIV services alongside AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) supporters at Advocacy Days. When asked about his experience working with Dawkins, John Peller, AFC’s president/CEO, responded, “One of the most rewarding parts of my job is working with community members like John and watching them find their voices as advocates. Over the years that I’ve known John, he’s grown from a consumer of services to an advocate who speaks articulately to the needs of the community of people with HIV. It’s a powerful transformation that will ultimately benefit people with HIV or at risk of HIV in Chicago or across the U.S.”    

Apart from being a pillar in the Cicero community, he is also a father of three, grandfather of six and has a loving partner of 23 years. “He’s my top supporter,” said Dawkins.

Dawkins is able to avoid stress and keep up his good health thanks to the housing support provided to him by AFC. Working with people living with HIV and AIDS, encouraging others to step up to the plate, asking questions and empowering others, and working to end homelessness are the duties Dawkins feels called to do.

For John Dawkins, staying afloat isn’t something to do alone. It’s a daily effort that takes a team — a team that he leads and supports.

Categorized under Inside Story.