When Richard Z. Wright learned in the late 1980s that he was HIV-positive, he was convinced he wouldn't survive. "It was an automatic death sentence back then," he said.
Wright admitted that soon after his diagnosis, he participated in many high-risk activities, including drug use and anonymous sex. "At that time, average HIV patients didn't live two years" after being diagnosed, Wright said.
Wright, about 15 years ago, had his a-ha moment that, yes, he could thrivenot just survivewith HIV. He said, "It might sound funny, but I'd often look at watch, look up to God [in heaven] and say, 'What's keeping you?' God would reply to me that I would [die] on his time, not my time, that I still had something on earth that I hadn't completed yet.
"That's when I started doing more for other people."
And that truly is Wright's calling in 2012.
"I'm dedicated to doing something for my community instead of focusing on own carnal desires," said Wright who, every morning, does spiritual reading to help survive the daily grind. "My life now is all about helping others, and enjoying every day that has been given to me as a gift."
Wright was honored earlier this year by the Jeffery Pub on the city's South Side as the Best Patron of the Year. "I guess [the award] is for [being] the best alcoholic," joked Wright, who has been a patron at Jeffery Pub "even when I shouldn't have been," dating back to when he was only 17.
The pub is reportedly the oldest predominantly Black gay bar in the United States in its original location.
"Being a gay person of color, we still have a way to go in the gay community," Wright said. "The biggest change in the gay world that I've seen is, young people not really realizing the struggle for the freedom that the older generation went through so they have what they do today. The younger generation has no idea what went on, what we endured and encountered, such as police raids, and so much more."
Columbia College and the University of Chicago give Wright 50-100 tickets for each their theatrical performances, which Wright donates to senior citizens and veterans, mostly within the LGBT community.
Neighborhood: South Shore area of Chicago
Job title: Activist and advocator
Hobbies: Theater and reading
Relationship status: "Peter Pan syndrome"
Cubs or White Sox: White Sox
Favorite football team: New Orleans Saints
Personal hero: His grandfather (Sidney Harrington Smith), who raised nine children during the Great Depression
Current hero: Charlene Eure, his mom
Little-known fact: Until age 7, he stuttered.
Photos courtesy of Wright.