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AIDS Advocate Shifted The Focus To Living

May 9, 2006
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer

Linda C. Jordan, a prominent AIDS advocate whose international message that families dealing with the HIV virus should concentrate on living rather than dying, will be remembered at a funeral today.

Jordan, who died at the age of 53, lived for 21 years after learning that she had the virus. Her message of hope - carried on 20,000 posters, banners and billboards - was delivered across the country as well as in India, Japan and Africa.

Her outspokenness was shocking at a time when many in the African American community refused to publicly acknowledge the disease's impact on blacks in the United States.

"She was an inspiration to a lot of people," said Samantha Jordan, her youngest daughter. "She tried to give them strength in the belief that they could continue with life. She was determined to make it known that HIV/AIDS doesn't mean you can't live."

Rather than looking at her diagnosis as a death sentence, Linda Jordan, who survived a heroin addiction and the losses of her husband and oldest daughter to AIDS, told thousands at AIDS conferences in Connecticut and across the country that, for her, learning she had HIV actually saved her from the troubled life she was leading.

"Before HIV, I was killing myself," said Jordan, who for many years declined to use anti-AIDS drugs on religious grounds.

Her attitude was rooted in a profound belief in God, several AIDS advocates who knew her said this week as they prepared to "celebrate her life" at services today at The Salvation Army / North End Corps in Hartford. Jordan died at home just before sunrise May 1, surrounded by her children and grandchildren.

Though Jordan climbed to the top of the advocacy movement, which included a feature story in Life magazine and a speaking engagement at the 1994 International AIDS Convention in Yokohama, Japan, she started in difficult circumstances.

Born poor in Hartford's North End, she began abusing alcohol when she was 12 and heroin when she was 18. She was a teenage mother who went on to marry and divorce her late husband, Alvin, twice. For more than 25 years, Jordan, the mother of four daughters, struggled with her addiction until she got clean in 1989. She was diagnosed with HIV in 1985.

Over the last two decades, Jordan took a stance advocating for all families living with the virus, believing they were underrepresented in public awareness campaigns. She challenged area churches and faith-based organizations to champion the cause. She also volunteered as a caregiver for needy men and women without families.

African American woman are disproportionately represented among females with the disease in the U.S., accounting for 67 percent of the estimated female AIDS cases in 2004, even though the group makes up only 13 percent of the female population in the U.S., according to a recently released study by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Sister Peg Luby remembers when Jordan joined The Circle of Friends, a retreat sponsored by St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford and the Mercy Center in Madison for people infected with the virus and their companions.

"When she walked into a room, people looked up and took notice," Luby said. "I've never met someone with such outspoken faith. ... She said nothing is impossible with God and I'm the proof of it. She'd say if I can come as far as I've come with the help of the Lord, so can everyone."

She was an inspiration to mothers like Barbara Rogers, another AIDS advocate, who adopted an infant and later discovered the child had HIV.

But perhaps Jordan's greatest impact came through a relationship she formed with Darrell Decker, executive director of Concerned Citizens for Humanity in Hartford, whose organization was documenting the faces of people with AIDS in the early 1990s.

Decker met Jordan at a time he was looking for women to be photographed in a national prevention campaign. He was hoping that families with HIV would be represented in the HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns worldwide.

Jordan offered not only herself but her daughter, Tanya, who was also HIV positive, and a grandson, who was not. The 1994 poster was distributed by Decker's organization and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Linda was such a strong apostle for change," Decker said. "I could give her a platform to the world about what this meant for her life. I stepped out of the limelight and let her run with it. She was a hero of the AIDS movement."

A wake will be held at 10 a.m. today, followed by funeral services at The Salvation Army / North End Corps on Barbour Street in Hartford. Burial will be at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Rocky Hill.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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