CHICAGO (WLS) -- Cordelia McKnight was diagnosed with HIV in 1992.
"I thought that was going to be a death sentence for me," she said.
It took her years to realize she could not only live, but also thrive.
"People look at me like, you don't look like you have HIV. Ok so what's does HIV look like," she said.
It's been 40 years since the first documented AIDS cases in the U.S., the devastating advanced stage of HIV infection. It has killed more than 700,000 Americans. There have been medical advancements in treatment but still no cure.
"Ever since day one, when they told me that I need to start taking the medication, I wondered why the heck there wasn't a vaccine for it, still today I wonder that," McKnight said.
According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, in 2019 non-Hispanic Blacks in Chicago account for 56 percent of new HIV cases and nearly 57 percent of AIDS diagnoses.
"We are really impacted by racism, poverty, the lack of healthcare access," said Cynthia Tucker, the vice president of prevention and community partnerships at AIDS Foundation Chicago.
McKnight believes that it's important for her to use her voice to advocate for change. She's one of dozens of women who shared their experiences for the "I'm Still Surviving" project headed by UIC history professor, Jennifer Brier.
"I wish people knew that they can survive," McKnight said.
Brier said there needs to be a support system in place.
"We understand that of course ways of caring for people with HIV have to involve housing. They have to involve childcare. They have to transportation. It can't just be about biomedical solutions," she said.
Chicagoans reflect on 40 year anniversary of first cases of AIDS in US