David Robertson was literally inches from ending it all, filled with alcohol and illegal drugs after learning of his positive HIV diagnosis, and ready to leap 11 stories to his death onto Michigan Avenue.
But fate stepped in, in the form of a strong gust of wind, knocking him backwards, away from the ledge he hovered near. Robertson hit his head and was knocked out.
He didn't wake up for 14 hours.
"My life changed June 19, 2007, at 12:34 p.m.," Robertson said of the moment he learned he was HIV-positive. "The news didn't seem remotely true. [ The doctor ] said [ the diagnosis ] to me again, with agony in her voice and tears welling in her eyes, 'I know about your brother's diagnosis of AIDS, and I know about your aunt's diagnosis of AIDS, but, honey, you have HIV.'"
Robertson was convinced he was on the fast-track to death.
But thanks mostly to the support of his mom, Deborah, Robertson has taken back his life, motivated and driven to make the most of a bad situation, and also aide others who face the fears that he had, especially the high percent of young, gay, Black men infected with HIV/AIDS.
Robertson, 27, who lives in Chicago's South Side Bronzeville neighborhood, is a youth advocate consultant for the Positively Living Program at University of Chicago's Comer Hospital. He also is an MSM ( men who have sex with men ) program recruiter consultant for the Southside Help Center. Plus, Robertson is a campaign ambassador for amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, a leading organization dedicated to the support of HIV/AIDS research.
"My heart is with, and for, the MSM community, especially the young, gay, Black community," Robertson said. "HIV/AIDS has become such a common acronym to so many people who have grown up with these words being thrown around, it has been a challenge to effectively aide them with proactive and outcome driven results."
Robertson, for instance, is one of many in his family directly impacted by HIV/AIDS. His older brother is battling AIDS.
"My brother became very hopeless with his diagnosis. It was as if he slowly knows he is killing himself and carelessly," Robertson said. "I realized early in my diagnosis that, in order to be better, I had to do better. I had the virus. I had to make a conscious decision to help those who didn't have the tenacity that I had. I have such a drive and a passion to help anyone who is having sex to, one, get tested, and, two, if they are in a monogamous relationship, get tested, and three, if you know your child is having sex, recommend they get tested."
Robertson has, in recent years, lived by the motto that he didn't want to become an individual who knew better, yet didn't do better.
"One of my favorite quotes says, 'When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.' I think that sums up things," he said.
Robertson said he is in the process of expanding his knowledge on the global effects of HIV/AIDS. "I believe it is important for me, as a community leader, to get the full perspective on the issue to be as beneficial to my community as possible," he said. "Working with amfAR has given me so much insight on AIDS research and the true effects of HIV/AIDS globally. I believe in peer to peer education and being able to gain that knowledge on the Global AIDS epidemic and share that with the African-American community. I believe and hope it would be innovative, beneficial and transforming to the [ school-aged ] population. Today, I look at meeting the needs of the youth where they are at. They're looking for the bright light, an out-of-box experience because, honestly, the average of what they see on TV and experience every day of the lives just won't enable them enough to think of better behaviors."
Robertson's drive to help educate, inform and console others centers on the fact he never wants another individual "to have to deal with what I deal with on a daily basis."
Robertson said in October that he is healthy, happy and has undetectable viral loads.
For more about Robertson, watch his 4-minute video at: www.makingaidshistory.org
This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.