Justina Mercer was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. by her mother, Gloria. Justina currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her family and has been married for 23 years. She is the mother of three and the grandmother of five.
Growing up in the Bronx, she was forced to see and learn a lot at an early age with responsibilities that she now admits she may not have been ready for. She attributes taking on more serious responsibilities because sadly, drugs took their toll on her sister who died of AIDS in 1983 at the age of 32. Not only was her family devastated, but there wasn't much information about it or many places you could go to for help so she and her family suffered all alone.
She dropped out of school to help her mother look after her niece, nephew, and little sister. This is the point where Justina believes her life took a turn for the worse. She herself started using drugs and it wasn't long after she found herself not only pregnant but diagnosed with HIV. At that time, HIV was only treated with AZT. She feared AZT would be harmful to her unborn child so she did not take her meds. Unfortunately, her son was born with HIV and she was still addicted to crack cocaine. Her beloved mother told her she would take care of her son but she could only get him back if she changed her life. Despite her efforts, a year later she was arrested and sent to prison. That's when her journey to live began.
Justina had to take meds in prison as it was mandatory; which also meant she could no longer keep it a secret that she had HIV. She then took it upon herself to read everything she could on the topic of HIV and signed up for all the training that was offered. Once home, she signed up for exponents and courses with the goal to educate herself further in order to help others. So much so, that she became a peer health educator, and even now after living with HIV for 29 years, Justina still conducts training and leads HIV support groups.
She is currently a mentor and trainer with her local Department of Health.