Bodley carries AIDS message to local schools
The Daily Mountain Eagle
Published March 01, 2004 10:04 PM CST
Johnny Bodley, who carries out HIV education for Whatley Health Services of Sipsey, has been going to area schools teaching young people to be careful so that they don't get the disease.
Some might wonder if that is needed in Walker County, but statistics show otherwise. As of Feb. 20, the state Department of Public Health shows Walker County has 57 cases of full-blown AIDS and 44 HIV cases, for a total of 101. At least one new AIDS case has been reported in the county since the start of the year.
According to the state, AIDS is the most serious complication caused by infection with HIV. The virus attacks the white blood cells which protect the body from infection and thus lowers the body's ability to fight diseases and infections.
The total cumulative number of HIV and AIDS cases, 101, amounts to a third of all those reported in the six counties that make up Public Health Area 1, including Walker, Marion, Winston, Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale counties. Walker leads the other five counties, including the 88 reported in Lauderdale County and the 62 reported in Colbert County. Walker ranks 23rd out of 67 counties in total combined AIDS and HIV cases.
Walker County also leads in AIDS cases in the area, as 55 cases are reported in Lauderdale. A total of 179 AIDS cases are reported for the six-county area.
As of Jan. 31, a total of 6,217 HIV infections and 7,552 AIDS cases have been reported to the state Department of Public Health, for a combined total of 13,770.
Bodley, who does not have AIDS or HIV himself, said the number of young people from Walker County who are coming in for testing at Whatley's facility in Tuscaloosa is increasing. He said that is actually a good thing.
"For every reported case, a total of three people are infected and don't even know it," Bodley said.
Bodley, who is living in Selma but plans to move to this area, joined Whatley on Dec. 1, adding to what is already an interesting resume. Bodley was raised in Selma during the turbulent 1960s. At age 8 he became an inmate at the Dallas County Jail in Selma. He was placed in a foster home at age 11, but a few years later he spent two years at the reformatory school at Mount Meigs.
At age 19 he received a GED degree at night school while in jail in Florida, and later graduated from a modeling and fashion design school in Boston, Mass. For 15 years he also was employed as a youth worker in Massachusetts, dealing with youth who were in a secure lock-up facility.
His experiences led him to write a motivational book called "These Eyes," which is available at most of the major book Web sites. The book also details forms of segregation and racism Bodley said he encountered while growing up in Selma.
Bodley said he was running and stretching near the Edmond Pettis bridge in Selma a few years ago when an elderly white man stopped to talk to him. It turned out the man knew of his background in jail and worked with a local AIDS outreach group.
The man asked Bodley to take a job with the group in an effort to reach young troubled youth about AIDS and HIV. At first Bodley turned down the job, but his house burned that very night. By the next day, he had taken the job.
In about the past seven years Bodley has presented 2,800 presentations on HIV and AIDS. He has spoken in 35 counties to Alabama students in grades 4-12, as well as eight major universities. Bodley has worked closely with Margaret Guthrie of the Walker County School System to schedule appearances at schools throughout the county, although he said he is available to appear at other school systems, civic groups or church groups.
He uses his own personal trials to help prevent children from falling through the cracks of society. He goes into abstinence and other basics about the disease.
"I let them know how easy it is for teenagers to get this disease," he said. "I stay focused and to the point. I don't sugar coat anything."
Bodley said he tries to convey that AIDS and HIV can happen to anyone, even in Alabama and Walker County. Homosexual activity, with and without drug injections, resulted in only 52 percent of the cases in the state. As many as 1,200 cases of AIDS in the state, or about 16 percent, have occurred through men and women having sex. Drug use without sexual activity resulted in 14 percent, or nearly 1,100 cases, in the state. Transfusions also led to 87 people contracting the disease. Nearly 1,000 people, or 13 percent, statewide were listed under "other or undetermined" as to the cause.
This also does not count 76 pediatric cases which occurred under age 13.
Statewide about 81 percent of cases hit men, while 60 percent affect African-Americans. Bodley said many blacks thought when the disease started in the early 1980s that only homosexuals contracted the disease, and did not receive protection as a result.
That has had tragic consequences.
"It is the leading cause of death for black men ages 25 to 44," he said.
Anyone wanting more information may call Bodley at 205-648-5337 or e-mail him at johnnybodley.yahoo.com. He also has a Web site,authorsden.com/eyes or johnnybodley.com.
Complete AIDS statistics in the state may be found at adph.org/aids.
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