Imagine growing up with the HIV virus. Now imagine living with the knowledge that you have the disease because your father intentionally gave it to you when you were an infant.
That’s been the reality for Brryan Jackson, who is now 18 and, as the Associated Press reports, graduated yesterday from his high school in St. Charles, Mo. Jackson is coping well physically with his disease — doctors say he is in good health and is now down to taking five medications daily, a significant decrease from what he once had to consume. He’s also managed to do something few people would have the strength to do: forgive his father for secretly injecting him with a syringe filled with HIV-tainted blood when he was just 11-months-old.
The story goes like this. Brryan’s mother checked him into a St. Louis hospital back in 1992 because the boy was suffering from asthma. During that visit, Brian Stewart — Brryan’s father and a man who made his living as a phlebotomist, someone who draws blood from patients — allegedly convinced Jackson’s mom to leave the room , then inserted the syringe into his son’s skin while she was gone. By 1996, the child was near death and doctors finally diagnosed him with AIDS. Initially, they could not determine how he got the disease but it didn’t take long for them to start looking into the connection between the illness and Brryan’s father.
During a1998 trial in the case, prosecutors contended that Stewart, who was not married to Jackson’s mother Jennifer, wanted to give his son HIV so he could get the family out of his life and no longer pay child support. A jury found Stewart guilty of first-degree assault, for which he is still serving a life sentence. At his sentencing the judge told him: “I believe when God finally calls you, you are going to burn in hell from here to eternity.”
Brryan does not talk to his father, and he changed his name to its current, unconventional spelling in order to distance himself from his dad. But, as he tells an AP reporter, he does forgive him for what he did: “God wants us to forgive people … Am I going to make myself as low as he is? … I’ve got to be the better person.”
It’s pretty remarkable for a child to not only survive such unspeakable circumstances, but to apparently become a better person because of them. I’d like to say that I, too, could forgive if I walked in his shoes, but I know the truth: I couldn’t. No way.
Clearly Brryan understands that living well is not only the best revenge in this situation, but his only option, and a way to teach other people how important it is to forgive and move on. I admire him for it, and I congratulate his mother for raising a child who not only overcame death but, with his current work as an advocate for AIDS education, is devoting his life to serving as an example for others.