TERENCE STEWARD II: “LIFESTYLE COACH, AND ADVOCATE FOR PrEP SQUAD DC”

"The current steps I am taking now is that I am placing myself in situations and things that I am interested in."

LET’S START WITH YOUR EARLY YEARS IN CHICAGO; HOW DID YOU ESTABLISH YOUR FOUNDATION HERE? 

I moved to Chicago 4 years ago, and what propelled me to move was my search for love, resources, and opportunities. After graduating from Beloit College in Wisconsin, moving back home was not an option. I was suffering a lot during my early year’s post graduation. I knew relocating back to Tampa was not going to add value to my life, in that lane. After weighing my options I noticed how Chicago was a) the nearest city, and b) a city where I knew enough of to navigate.

I moved into a studio apartment with a friend of mine for 4 months, and the rest is history.

WERE THERE ANY INTERNAL STRUGGLES YOU HAD TO OVERCOME?

When I was 21, I discovered that I was HIV positive, and that was 6 months after I came out to my parents at 20. I was admitted to a mental hospital for thoughts of suicide, and an attempted one as well. It was a complete blur during those moments. I remember looking in the mirror and not even recognizing myself. It was just death staring back at me. I began pondering what more could happen to me.

I went from pulling myself off academic probation but also splitting from my first love. All of these events were transpiring towards the end of my undergraduate study and it felt as though I had no one to communicate my struggles with. I was alone.

AND ALL OF THESE EVENTS WERE TRANSPIRING DURING YOUR TRANSITION PERIOD TO CHICAGO?

Yes, exactly. In this whole new environment where I didn’t know what people thought of me, let alone what I thought of myself. No one knew. My family and I which includes: my Mom, Dad, younger sister, and our nanny (Dad’s mom) were driving down to Florida from Wisconsin, and I’m in the car crying uncontrollably because I wanted to cry out to them — however, it felt as though I couldn’t. I was placing a burden upon myself holding it in. Knowing that was my family, but the overwhelming feeling of fear lingering in the air. It was so much in me and I didn’t know how to channel it.

Simply get educated. What makes HIV seem so scary is that it’s life-long. It’s viewed as life-long, though my mother thinks there’s a cure and I believe her.”

WHAT STEPS DID YOU TAKE IN ORDER TO PULL YOURSELF OUT OF THIS PARTICULAR STATE?

The summer of 2011 is when I started understanding love and gratitude and seeing the beauty in things and understanding life. That was my rebirth. I was living on my college campus, being an RA, I was working at a hotel doing hospitality and was traveling frequently. I was working out consistently and my health was just through the roof. I kept myself busy. I also had my best friend with me, so I had love in doing things that reminded me of love. I had to keep thinking about what I wanted and where I was coming from because I knew I did not want to go back to that earlier mental state I was in. I said to myself, “I can do this; we can do this!”

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION YOU WISH THE MEDIA AND SOCIETY WOULD ELIMINATE ABOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE HIV POSITIVE?

Simply get educated. What makes HIV seem so scary is that it’s life-long. It’s viewed as life-long, though my mother thinks there’s a cure and I believe her. She’s right. The biggest misconception is that you are unable to live like you’re sick all the time and you just can’t do it. It can be traumatizing. I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life and it’s beautiful. I even get confused myself. Sometimes, I think the government or someone is going to send me a piece of mail and say, “Terrence, we mixed up your blood work with another person’s; we had you fooled this entire time.” That won’t happen, so I am learning to accept my truth and be okay with my health.

LET’S SHIFT THE FOCUS TO ANOTHER TOPIC; WITH THE TERM ARTIST BEING SO BROAD, HOW WOULD YOU CATEGORIZE YOUR ART?

My art is more visual with me being a person of physical contact. Whether that may be modeling, radio, or being an advocate — I’m an image, and I can produce an image. So I’ve realized that in this particular lane visual arts is what I specialize in. So labeling myself as a visual artist I’ve set the foundation and can understand how this foundation needs to grow.

WITH OUR GENERATION BEING LABELED THE “SLASHER ERA,” SUCH AS A PERSON BEING A MODEL/STYLIST/MAKE-UP ARTIST, DO YOU FEEL THE NEED TO BE A SLASHER IN A HUGE METROPOLITAN CITY SUCH AS CHICAGO?

Absolutely! You have to be able to mold, you have to be a chameleon. You should be comfortable enough to place yourself in different environments, settle, disguise, or stand out. You really have to learn that. Your surroundings will change and you need to be able to adapt and use them to your advantage. If you can’t you should act your way through, which is still essentially learning.

WHAT STEPS ARE YOU TAKING TO CONTINUE BUILDING YOUR BRAND?

I am figuring that out now. I am the type of person that when you get a box, inside is a new VCR, the directions, and the book. I leave the book where it is, pick up the VCR, and I just do. I just figure it out. I want to figure it out my own way. I want to use your tools, but I want to put it together piece by piece. The current steps I am taking now is that I am placing myself in situations and things that I am interested in, like radio. I love conversation, I love learning new information, I love meeting people, and radio is a good way to do that. I’ve been co-hosting a show with two of my closest friends that are also from Florida that I met here in Chicago, called the “Butter Hours” on WLPN, Lumpen Radio for a year now.

I NOTICED THAT YOU’RE FEATURED ON PrEP DC’s SOCIAL MEDIA PAGE CONSTANTLY. HAS MODELING OPENED UP OTHER VENTURES FOR YOU?

It has and that’s exactly what exposing yourself will do, it will bring about a whole new realm for you. I had this opportunity presented to me in San Francisco after visiting some friends and I got a call from a photographer and friend in D.C., and he said that he had a friend looking for a really attractive black guy. I just remember thinking that he was joking, like, what’s the catch? He then went on to explain that he had a friend, Terry, who was looking for a model, spokesmodel to talk about PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and he’s doing this private program because if you do it through the government, they’ll censor things and have a stronghold over it. So you have this pop-up guy that stands up and wants to start an organization to reach out to gay men and all communities about HIV, sexual health, PrEP, and condom use. At first, I was thinking, “No, you can’t do that,” but my friend was like just think about it. I was just thinking it was way too perfect. Here it is, they want a Black gay man to talk about and be a spokesperson for things that affect us and our communities in a grave way. I was being able to help out the LGBTQ community, and become a spokesperson for a brand as well. That was this year in March, so modeling has definitely opened up some doors.

WHAT IS THE LEGACY THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO LEAVE BEHIND?

I was passing up a cemetery and began to wonder if everyone that had been buried there got to do what they wanted or mostly because you will never get to do everything that you wanted or most. You can never do it all. I still think about the type of legacy that I want to leave behind and I do know that I want to be known for making people feel good and that it is okay to be you because you are you.

IN ONE SENTENCE, WHAT WOULD THAT LOOK LIKE?

I just want to perform and connect with other artists globally, ultimately contributing to the great things that people within my family have done in the past.

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION

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