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Black women living with HIV deserve to thrive. Meet two women who are leading the way.


Venita Ray (left) and Masonia Traylor (right)

When Magic Johnson announced during a press conference in 1991 that he’d acquired HIV, Masonia Traylor, 34, was only four-years-old. And in 1995, when the first HIV “cocktail,” a combination of antiretroviral drugs used to suppress the replication of HIV in the body, became widely available for use, Traylor was eight. The gravity of Johnson’s diagnosis and the impact it would have around the globe at the height of the epidemic couldn’t have been further off eight-year-old Traylor’s radar. HIV wasn’t a part of her world as a child growing up in Atlanta, and this would remain unchanged well into her early 20s until it did.


On a lunch break from work, Traylor recalls seeing a woman wearing a t-shirt that read on the front, “I Have HIV.” Traylor says she was shocked and figured if the “woman was bold enough to wear that I could ask her if she had HIV.”


Traylor says the woman chuckled and said, “Girl, no. Read the back.” The woman turned around to reveal the text written on the back of her t-shirt: “If only it was that easy to tell. Get tested.”


It was the reminder that Traylor needed to schedule an appointment with her doctor to receive her yearly HIV test. Since age 15, she made it a habit to be tested at least once a year and to encourage her friends to do the same.


“I learned all it took was just one time. I learned you can be with somebody and they have it, and you wouldn't be able to tell based on what they looked like. I learned that early,” said Traylor. “I decided when I go to get my pap smears, I would make sure I requested a full STD panel.”


Traylor, a mother of two, had her first child at 16 and graduated early from high school the following year. She tells The Reckoning that although she and her then-boyfriend used condoms “probably 85, 90% of the time, as you get more comfortable in relationships, you know, the condoms come off.” So, in 2010 she paid a visit to her OB/GYN for what she believed would be routine testing. Traylor recalls insisting on being tested for HIV after facing resistance from her doctor, whom she says believed Traylor to be at “low-risk” for acquiring HIV.


"I normally log in to look for my results. Boom. They're all there,” she said. “I logged in this time and none of the results were available. So, I called them. My results, are they ready? She said, ‘yes, they’re ready. But can you come in?’ I was thinking that they're going to tell me I have HPV and that I have abnormal cells because I may have cancer. That's what I have in my head,” said Traylor.


It wasn’t HPV or cancer, Traylor’s doctor revealed that her HIV test results were positive.


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