When I received my copy of Don Carrel’s book, “My Dream to Trample AIDS,” I took a few minutes to flip through it. I felt a bit emotional as I re-read familiar passages and remembered how we sparred over ways to state things. It was a proud moment for me to see his words finally in hardback format. (I can only imagine what it must have been like for him.)
I first met Don through a former client. I will never forget our initial conversation. I was intrigued by the story of this man who’d been living with HIV/AIDS since 1981. Amazed by the fact that since 1996 he’d been speaking to high school students about HIV/AIDS and not getting compensated to do so. Thrilled that he’d actually consider hiring me to be his editor.
I’m no genius, but I knew his story – his book – would have legs. And that it’s so needed today. According to statistics Don includes in his book, based on CDC data from 2010, there were 56,300 new HIV infections. A whopping 25% of new HIV cases occur between the ages of 13 and 19. Another 25% occur between the ages of 20-25. These are startling statistics. Teens today are still more worried about getting pregnant than contracting an STD or HIV. Yet we don’t hear much about either in the media these days. And the statistics are far worse if you’re a person of color.
HIV and AIDS are still a part of the fabric of the U.S. culture. There’s still no cure, although medications have improved dramatically. But the reality is that medication, while quite helpful, can be nearly intolerable for some and is hugely expensive. Woe to you if you don’t have health insurance. Or if you have health insurance but lose your job or want to change jobs. While many in the medical community now say HIV can be classified as a chronic disease like Type 2 diabetes, you can’t catch diabetes from having unprotected sex.
Like most authors, Don writes from the heart. He weaves his story into the pages as he also tells of the friends he lost in those early days of the disease – when everyone thought it was just a “gay” problem. His stories are powerful. Adding to the impact of his words are those of the students he’s spoken to. Smart guy that he is, Don’s been collecting testimonials, comments and questions from students since he began speaking. To date, he has over 100,000 of these often-heartwrenching comments. As you read them, you might first think they’re coming from kids in lower income areas. The shocker is that they are upper middle class kids in most cases. Their stories can be painful to read and give you as much pause as what Don just relayed.
Perhaps not surprising, many times the students admit how little they knew about HIV/AIDS. And how many realize that a few minutes of pleasure could cut a the potential for a life well lived quite short. Watching them really get the message is one reason Don keeps speaking.
But at 60 years old, Don’s not going to be able to do this forever. Hence the book.
When I evaluate a potential project, I run it through a few filters. As you might guess, one is “can this person afford to pay me?” But another, equally important filter is this – “Will this make a positive difference in the world?” Don’s book has the potential to not only make a difference, but save lives. To me, that’s the most positive difference of all.
I am humbled to have been a part of such an emotional and sometimes gut-wrenching project. I have been forever changed by Don’s generosity of spirit, love of life and unflagging determination to get his message out.
Please consider buying his book for you or someone you care about. Consider approaching your local high school to ask if you can donate one or two of them for their library. If you’re involved in a religious organization, ask if this could be a topic of discussion using the book as a guide. Consider bringing Don in to speak to an at-risk group. I don’t get anything by promoting this – these aren’t affiliate links. I just believe everyone should read this book!