My Story: “My Dad Died From AIDS…& I’m HIV Positive”

Internationally known, award-winning photographer Duane Cramer has become an advocate for HIV awareness for over two decades after finding out that his best friend died of the disease. His best friend being his father.

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Duane’s dad died of AIDS 29 years ago. Because HIV/AIDS had such a huge stigma back then, the family initially told everyone that his father died of cancer.

“He had been sick on and off for quite some time; the doctors really didn’t know what was going on,” Cramer recalled. “In the ‘80s, when my father died, there were no medications…there was a lot of shame and guilt around HIV/AIDS. We were really fearful of the stigma…we actually told people that he had died of cancer.”

Duane then started volunteering for various HIV-educational programs. But he felt like something was missing from the conversation, and that the HIV/AIDS story from a black perspective needed to be told.

After 10 years of volunteering, Duane contracted HIV himself from a relationship. Both his and his father’s diagnoses fueled his passion to educate the community even more.

“At first it was only a white gay man’s disease, and those blacks with HIV were left out in the dust.”

Duane currently encourages people living with HIV to help develop a treatment plan for each other, using his photography and creativity to bring much needed attention to the disease. He has been involved in various campaigns and HIV-education initiatives designed to get people talking about and tested for HIV.  Duane captures social images, and shares those images to incite conversation and tell stories.  Which is appropriate, since Duane sees himself as a professional storyteller. 

Duane is currently working with Merck on Project I Design, a educational campaign that helps people living with HIV to work with doctors on their own terms.  As a part of the campaign, Duane shares his personal experience to show the importance of a healthy dialogue with doctors and patients.

“If there’s one thing I want our black community to know is I want people to really be authentic, especially with their doctors. So many times–for whatever reason–we don’t tell our doctors the whole story, which delays accurate diagnosis and treatment. Be real, so you can be healthier. No matter what happens, keep a positive attitude. It’s a value that my family instilled in me and it’s kept me going all these years.” 

For more information on Duane and Project I Design, click here.

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