That’s the phrase you’re likely to hear when greeted by LaMar Yarborough. Although I’ve known him for about 2 years, it was only until recently I noticed that he continually invites a special kind of optimism into the space by starting conversations this way.
At only 25 years old, the breadth of experiences and ambition LaMar possesses at such an age strikes me as impressive if not harrowing. As we sit across the table from one another, and LaMar talks to me about cancer diagnoses, HIV, and how—at least once in your life—you have to listen to Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill from beginning to end without interruption, I notice the same optimism, with which LaMar began, trailing seamlessly throughout our conversation.
Early Years in Georgia
LaMar was raised just up the road in Lawrenceville and recalls family gatherings at Buford Dam every single Saturday, without fail. For him, home was a bustling place of friends, family, conversation, and energy. LaMar even recalls he and his mother inviting people in need of a place to stay to their house. Talk about hospitality.
Although home was a space filled with pleasant memories, school was not. After homeschooling until he was fourteen, LaMar began public schools. Not long into this transition, he frequently bounced around public schools then eventually private schools in the area. Although popular, he constantly faced harsh bullying. “I hated school. I couldn’t wait to leave,” he recalls.
LaMar also grew up as a member of the Seventh-day Advent Church. He became heavily involved in a religious youth camp called Pathfinder, which played a pivotal role in his childhood saying, “I really had a childhood because of Pathfinder.”
When the doctor told LaMar he tested positive for HIV, he wasn’t exactly sure how to react. He knew it was bad, but “didn’t know enough about the disease to be fearful.” As if that wasn’t enough, LaMar was diagnosed with cancer the following year. He laughs a bit as he recalls that his family was much more shaken up by the news of his cancer than they were about his HIV status.
It was around this time that, after being unstably housed, LaMar heard about Living Room and got connected to housing services.
It was around this time that, after being unstably housed, LaMar heard about Living Room and got connected to housing services. He met with Angela Susten, who would eventually become the organization’s executive director, and Living Room was able to locate an eligible space for him through a housing provider.
Having A Strong Legacy
It may shock some, but LaMar sees a benefit to his status. “I think my HIV diagnosis saved my life. I know it sounds strange, but, for me it was a way out of things and a way into better things. It’s actually been a blessing.” Through his status, LaMar got plugged into a community of people living with HIV/AIDS and set the course for his nonprofit leadership and role as an advocate.
In order to meet a gap in youth HIV services in the area, LaMar founded H.Y.P.E. 2 Empower and even has his eyes set on establishing two for profit companies later down the road. When asked, he says his greatest hope right now is that H.Y.P.E. 2 Empower is successful and is able to make a dent in the epidemic. “Also, I want to have a strong legacy,” he says. “What we’ve given to the world is what they’ll remember us by.” (Again: LaMar is twenty five.)
I want to have a strong legacy. What we’ve given to the world is what they’ll remember us by.
LaMar is an active volunteer, serving as one Georgia Equality‘s Youth HIV Policy Advisors and is a founding member of the Community Liaison Counsel for the Center for AIDS Research. Last year, LaMar began volunteering with Living Room, first on the programs committee and now as a board member. “I think housing is a big issue in Atlanta. Living Room was great to me, and I wanted to do what I can to help.”