Growing up in the South Bronx, hanging with the wrong crowd seemed to pose a bigger threat for me than AIDS. But then I turned 13. My Baptist church mother and surrogate grandmother had a son who was handsome and fierce, ignoring taunts from some neighborhood thugs because he was gay. One day, he died—he had always been thin, and the decline in his health had been barely noticeable. His mother said it was pneumonia, but six months later, my mother broke it down for me: The proud brother died of AIDS.

Stories like his are not just media hype. They’re becoming increasingly familiar. HIV is targeting our families, striking not just gay men but straight men as well as women and children. But it’s just one more item on the laundry list of health issues plaguing African Americans, including diabetes, cancer, hypertension and asthma.

It’s a shame that taking care of our health becomes secondary to holding onto our jobs, putting food on our tables and keeping our families safe from violence, drugs and teen pregnancy. But we can do something. We can feed our minds with accurate information. We can think ahead—seeing our doctors and screening for health problems early rather than later, when we nearly have one foot in the grave. And we can take the time to eat well and exercise—so many health problems are linked to these two lifestyle factors alone.

POZ, the U.S.’s leading magazine on HIV, keeps it real by cutting through the double-speak on controversial subjects like sex and drug use; instead, it serves up straight talk and practical, nonjudgmental advice. In that spirit, this special issue on black wellness, Real Health, offers ideas that everybody—not just the young, rich and famous—can use to achieve a healthier, more empowered state of being.

It isn’t easy, but I know it’s possible, because I did it. After gaining 50 pounds in one year, I began jogging three times per week, practicing yoga and Pilates, and playing tennis. I’ve also learned to watch what I eat, treating myself to the not-so-good-for-you foods in moderation. I managed to shed that extra baggage. It’s all about self-discipline,which I’m learning. When the going gets tough, I remember my adopted grandmother’s proud son and many others who might have flourished had they had the chance.

Strength, courage and wisdom,

Kenya N. Byrd
Executive Editor