Candlelight vigil held in Jacksonville to honor victims of HIV and AIDS on World AIDS Day

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) -World AIDS Day carries significant meaning for those, who are fighting against the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Every year on this day, communities across the globe raise awareness while honoring the many who’ve died from the disease and virus.

Triumph could be heard in Cressy Stokes’ voice Friday night as she reflected on her 26-year journey of living with HIV.

“You don’t know what we go through, or what we carry on our back because it’s so much stigma still around HIV,” Stokes said.

Friday, marked 35 years of World AIDS Day and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated Alumni Chapter in Jacksonville, held a candlelight vigil to honor those who’ve lost their life to HIV and AIDS.

Healthcare officials like Onslow County Health Department STD Nurse Denise Coleman spoke about not being afraid to get tested for HIV.

“We have individuals that come in and have no risk factors, but still get tested once a year,” Coleman said. “There are others that do have risk factors that come in every three months. Good, we want you there.”

Research shows that an estimated 39 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2022.

Stokes says she never expected to be an HIV victim, but believes it helped define her purpose as an advocate now.

“The person who infected me was someone I went to school with and grew up with,” Stokes said. “I had to tell him I forgive you for things you’ve done to me because you’ll never have a hold on my life. Some many in the world need to hear what I have to say.”

HIV and AIDS treatments have improved over the years but, victims like Stokes believe the world still needs to be educated.