Julia Napolitano, left, and Jae Blackmon at the state capitol building on Advocacy Day.

Julia Napolitano, left, and Jae Blackmon at the state capitol building on Advocacy Day.

Have you ever seen a superhero?

We’ve all seen Superman, Batman and Spiderman in the comics and on television; but have you ever experienced superheroes in the flesh — in all their super-powered, super-strengthened, super-talented glory? Last Wednesday, at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s long-awaited Advocacy Day, I finally did.

Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it to you.

On April 15th, I boarded a bus with ordinary citizens and staff from the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and Chicago House to head to the state capitol. At 6:30 in the morning,  I am a firm believer that no one should feel anything but eyelid on top of eyelid; but that was the time I boarded the bus to Springfield, Illinois. I was a bundle of nerves and excitement — much like my first day as a intern at Chicago House.

I have been at Chicago House for a little over a month, and in that month, I have heard and seen so many stories of how this organization has afforded the opportunity for many to become victors instead of victims, to use their differences as strength, and for normal people to put on capes and become superheroes, fighting injustice and inequality everyday.

I wanted to be a superhero.

When we reached Springfield, I was greatly surprised at how many “superheroes” that I had been traveling with. Some were disguised as social service workers, while others were disguised as ordinary citizens who had more than just another story to tell, but declarations of inspiration, hope, and lives rebuilt. The group spanned age, race, color, religion, gender, positive/negative HIV status and anything else that might otherwise cause division among ordinary humans.  I watched in awe as this group shed their human forms and donned their capes, making way to the capitol to use their super voices to band together to fight against legislation that would indeed prove an injustice for so many.

I really wanted to be a superhero.

See, so many of us wished to be superheroes in our former lives, back when we were kids. We wanted the super strength, to be “faster than a speeding bullet”,  and ultimately, we really wanted the honor of just saving the day. But what I’ve learned in my adult life, especially in this line of work, is that it doesn’t take much — anyone can and should become a superhero, and they can do it without all the extras. This is an advocate’s daily job. As an advocate, you don the imaginary cape and suit, and fight on the belief that every person has the right to a full, healthy life; free from being judged based on who they are and how they live.

There are many of us who shrink from the responsibility, because it all seems to be so much. But little do we know, that the greatest strength that this type of superhero possesses is compassion for all people, republican or democrat, and the ability to relate to legislators person to person, a strength that we all can hone. I watched last Wednesday, as some put their personal lives on the line – opening up and sharing their own stories of HIV, poverty and drug abuse – for the future well-being of family, friends and those they had never met before. Many of them didn’t choose to be superheroes, but were pushed into the work  because of their own stories and out of the sheer personal belief that their super-strength and voices will save someone else.

Last week, on a Wednesday, at Advocacy Day in Springfield, Illinois, I joined a group of real life superheroes; believe me now?