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Take Charge. Take the Test.
Spokesperson Biography – Kimberlin Dennis
Founder and Educator, Ministry of Hope
In 1994, Kimberlin Dennis was happily married and living in Cleveland. After nearly seven years of marriage, she and her husband Darryl decided they wanted to start a family. But in March of that year, Darryl began developing strange lesions on his body and went to the doctor. To their shock, he tested HIV-positive and was diagnosed with AIDS.
Two weeks later, Kimberlin made a decision that would change her life forever. She went to get tested for HIV herself, and learned that she, too, was HIV-positive. They were stunned by the news. Neither had ever thought themselves at risk for HIV: they had been happily married for almost seven years and had always been faithful to each other. What they later discovered was that Darryl’s high school girlfriend used injecting drugs and became infected with HIV while they were dating.
Just six months after his diagnosis, Darryl died of AIDS, leaving Kimberlin to struggle with her grief and her own diagnosis. At first, the stigma of the disease caused her to live in denial of her HIV status, keeping it a secret from her family, friends, and church.
That all changed for Kimberlin when she heard a speech at her church by Rae Lewis-Thornton, a young woman who went public with her HIV status on the cover of Essence. Rae’s frank and caring words inspired Kimberlin to break her silence and find a new purpose in life: to educate and empower others at risk for HIV, so that they could protect themselves from HIV, and take charge of their own health if they were infected.
In 1998, with encouragement and support from her family and pastor at Imani Church, Kimberlin established Ministry of Hope to provide HIV/AIDS education in churches, schools, prisons, and the hard-hit neighborhoods of her hometown of Cleveland. The organization has received an “Unsung Hero” award from Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones and a “Voice Against the Silence” award from the Cleveland AIDS Task Force.
“Taking charge of my life was the best thing I ever did. As a strong, black woman, you can do the same. Get tested for HIV and protect yourself.”
In 2007, CDC’s campaign to increase HIV testing and awareness among black women, Take Charge. Take the Test., was piloted in Cleveland. Kimberlin came on board as a peer educator and spokesperson, sharing her story again and again to encourage African American women to get tested for HIV. She calls her work with Take Charge. Take the Test. a life-changing experience. It demonstrated the power that her personal story could have on other black women, and showed the impact that a major HIV testing campaign could have in a community.
Today, inspired by her community and her faith, Kimberlin carries her message of hope and health to women, youth, and others at risk for HIV in Cleveland and across the country as a spokesperson for the Take Charge. Take the Test. campaign.
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