- Faith & Family
Local pastor sheds light on uncomfortable topic
Nowadays, there tend to be two sets of numbers that spin prominently in the mind of Apostle Leroy Smith.
The fact that there are 1.1 million people living/recently infected by HIV in the United States. And the fact that of that million, over 200,000 of them don’t know that they are infected.
The lack of knowledge is why Smith’s church More Than Conquerors Outreach Ministries, Inc. created the non-profit organization, Community Hope Health and Human Services, Corp., to provide free HIV/AIDS testing at their sanctuary.
“We have a place where we worship but then we have a separate place where we do our social services like HIV counseling,” Smith explained, So, “we don’t try to indoctrinate them with the Word when we do testing and counseling”
But he also stresses that Community Hope offers quality care. Smith’s HIV counseling includes not only testing but following up to help clients find doctors and financial assistance for their medication.
“I want to be sure to really counsel them because I’m a pastor above all, so i want to exhibit empathy and compassion,” he said.
Above all, Smith believes everyone should be more informed about the disease.
“There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding the illness,” he said. “A lot of people who still think that you can get it through casual contact like by drinking from the same glass as someone who has the the virus – which is just not true.”
That knowledge is a matter of life and death for a large portion of Blacks in South Florida. In Miami-Dade County, Blacks account for 51.5 percent of AIDS cases, while in Broward County, they make up 57.6 percent cases.
Nearly two decades ago, Smith learned that he was among the county’s HIV positive population.
The confirmation of his status was the culmination of an Overtown native who had spent years abusing his life in various ways – with drugs, with alcohol, physically and sexually. It was only when he had been shot at close range and suffered extensive injuries that a then 27-year-old Smith accepted Christ in his life, while on his hospital bed. It was while he was in the hospital that he was tested and discovered he was positive.
But the minister credits his new found faith for helping him to not be overwhelmed with depression upon learning of his HIV positive status.
“I thought – ‘if God saved you from a being shot at close range by a shot gun, then he’s not going to let you die from HIV,” he recalled.
His conversion led to many changes in his life – from a decision to return to school and eventually receiving his doctorate in divinity, opening a church and counseling community members.
However, he did not himself begin openly telling the public with his HIV status until more than a decade ago.
“In 2000 that was when I really started speaking out because I wanted other people to come and forward and be tested,” he explained. “I want to use my life to help people to prevent them from going through what I went through.”
By Kaila Heard