AIDScare of Chicago
Client: AIDScare of Chicago
Sample: Jerome Adams: An undeniable dreamer
There once was a man who dreamed of being a theater performer. He memorized Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches and could perform them on the spot. He earned his Associate of Arts degree in Chicago and eventually landed in New York City where he earned his Bachelor’s degree from New York University. He started his own catering business and with the help of his theater friends, began catering parties for some of the biggest recording companies and stars in New York. It was all working out. He would surround himself with creative people, and they would work hard and party harder. Life would be good and last forever.
Then, in the early 1980s, on a wild tour through Europe, Jerome Adams contracted AIDS. The news sent him to the one place he’d never dreamed of — the almost inescapable world of crack cocaine.
Within a few years, Jerome dropped so much weight his own father, picking him up at the airport, walked by him three times before he recognized him. There were times he would sit on the edge of his bed, open sores over every part of his body, and think only of getting his next fix. He’d hand his entire disability check over to one drug dealer, but there was another one looking for him.
Jerome didn’t walk into AIDS Care of Chicago once. He, like many addicts, had to walk in three different times before he stayed. Four years later, he’s no longer a resident; he’s Director of Residence Operations.
The winter of 2001 was Jerome’s first, and longest, at AIDS Care.
“I went into a deep slump here,” he says now. “It had just all come at once: How could my life had gone in this direction? How did I wind up here, with AIDS, twelve years addicted to crack cocaine, institutionalized basically?”
The guidance of a resident manager and access to the facility’s spectacular old mansion library sparked Jerome’s recovery.
“I was able to make some decisions,” he said. “One was that I was going to make a difference while I was here, and the other that I was going to get along with everybody here.”
Sitting in the rich, floor-to-ceiling wood paneled library in the depths of winter 2002, Jerome started to think of his own history: His great grandfather who co-founded Tuskegee University, and helped recruit Booker T. Washington as its first president; his aunt who had kept all those records. Who else had a rich history to share?
Jerome reached out to the director of resident services and to other residents for ideas and resources. He reached back to his experience mounting exhibits for a theater troupe on the South Side. And he reached deep inside for that creativity he had thrown aside in self pity and anger so many years before. Within weeks, AIDS Care had a Black History Month exhibit — open to all residents — that rivaled any professional display in the city, finished off with singing and performances of Dr. King speeches. Jerome had found a place to heal.
“I learned that there was something salvageable in my life,” he says now. “I could see my way back, I could really see there was a way back. It didn’t have to end the way it seemed to be ending – jail, institution or death.”
Jerome’s life has taken yet another turn he didn’t expect.
“I never thought I’d work in HIV,” he says, sitting in the break room of AIDS Care. “I said, ‘Never, never, never!’ I was intent in going back to theater, but something just tugged my heart about this.”
Jerome is still a man of dreams, but they are dreams of a different sort. He speaks of financing the education of African orphans, and maybe going to Kenya some day to work with people with HIV/AIDS. He has found what he can salvage from his life, and when he says it quietly, he smiles:
“I’ve never had so much hope.”