Before Monique Moree found out she was HIV positive, the 32-year-old Summerville native admits she didn’t know much about the virus.
“I just knew I was raised in a good home, I had a good family, why would I worry? We just didn’t talk about it,” she said.
Not even married people, she said, which is how Moree contracted the human immunodeficiency virus.
Roughly six months after getting married to her ex-husband, Moree discovered she was pregnant with her third child. As both a U.S. Army service member and a pregnant woman, Moree underwent several tests, including one that revealed her status as HIV positive.
“I thought it was a joke, that I was dreaming,” she said. “There were many crying nights. I was worried, what if my child was infected too? How am I going to be a mother to my two other kids?”
But through the darkness, Moree has found light: her baby was born HIV negative and her current husband is also HIV negative.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that causes a person’s immune system to fail and allows otherwise rare, often life-threatening infections and cancers to infect the body. If left untreated, HIV advances to a medical condition known as AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
The virus is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids. Unprotected sex and using contaminated needles are often cited as the most common ways of getting infected.
Since testing positive Moree’s experience with the illness has made her into an advocate on the subject.
Not only has she filmed several documentaries, written a book and given speeches on Capital Hill, but Moree also founded Monique’s Hope 4 Cure Outreach Services in 2011.
She chose to open the center in Holly Hill, where her father is the bishop of Solid Rock Outreach Ministry.
“It’s a rural area and that kind of support is really needed. A lot of people pop up positive there, but the closest they can go is to Orangeburg for help.”
The center provides HIV and AIDS testing, educational classes, emergency support such as clothes and food, and entertainment like arts and crafts.
Although the center is designed to benefit those who are HIV or AIDS positive, Monique’s Hope 4 Cure Outreach Services is open to the public.
“If we’re open to everyone, maybe I can help lower the rate of newly infected people.”
Moree said education and awareness are the two largest elements of the center and her advocacy, which is why she’s hosting the first Monique’s Hope 4 Cure AIDS Walk later this month.
The 1.5 mile walk will be held on Dec. 14, starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Holly Hill Depot. They’re asking walkers to wear red shirts and bring signs to help raise awareness about HIV and AIDS in the community.
“I’ve always wanted to have a Walk,” Moree said. “AIDS Walks are well known nationally as a way to come together. We’re letting the message out, letting people know HIV is real and that people need to be tested.”
Both Moree’s husband and her sons will be walking alongside her, and she said they’ve been a major source of support.
“It’s important to know that it’s not a death sentence, I still have a wonderful family,” she said.
Her sons, aged 7, 8 and 12 years old, are all aware of her status and educated on HIV and AIDS. For Moree it’s about educating the future generation because “that’s who needs to know.”
But still, she admits the experience has been hard for her children. As a surprise to her sons, their respective Summerville Sertoma Youth Football League teams will be joining them at the walk.
“It’s hard on a child, you know, ‘Why do I have to go walk, why can’t I go play instead?’ so the teams are going to come up and surprise them.”
But for each person who is speaking out on the subject, Moree said there are many more keeping quiet.
“Everyone is afraid to talk about it and no one wants to bring the community together on the topic. I’m trying to get [tested-]positive people to raise their voice and break some walls down,” she said. “People don’t want to get tested because they’re afraid of the answer.”
Moree said her happy life should be enough proof for those who are scared to get tested to change their minds.
“You don’t just die, your life isn’t over. I take three pills a day, I experience no side effects, I live just like I have to go take Tylenol for a headache. Don’t get it twisted though – there are people out there who are very sick. But it’s important to know that it’s not a death sentence.”
To learn more about Monique’s Hope 4 Cure AIDS Walk or to register for the event, visit www.moniqueshope4cure.org.