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13 Moments in Black Celebrity HIV/AIDS Activism

February 7, 2013


Marvelyn Brown

Marvelyn Brown Tells The Naked Truth (2008)

Marvelyn Brown was diagnosed with HIV at 19 years old, unaware that the virus was spread through unprotected sex. After her diagnosis, Marvelyn Brown became an outspoken advocate and acquired a hefty, hefty resume of speaking engagements and community work. In 2004, she won the Positive Youth Leadership Award from the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA). In 2007, she won an Emmy for her public service announcement with MTV's "Think HIV" campaign, and in 2009, she won the DO Something Award, which resulted in her face and story being featured on millions of Doritos bags nationwide. Brown also wrote a memoir, The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and (HIV) Positive.

In her book, she says, "How did I not know that the virus was sexually transmitted? I felt I had been robbed by my community, my school and my church. The mantras I had heard over and over again growing up -- 'Don't do drugs; don't get pregnant; don't smoke' -- suddenly seemed so worthless. Never had someone mentioned the possibility of me, Marvelyn Brown, contracting HIV from unprotected sex. I had seen it as something only Africans or gay men got." She expanded on that quote in an interview with

She has appeared on MTV, BET, America's Next Top Model and Oprah. She has also toured colleges and universities worldwide. She is now the CEO and an independent HIV consultant for Marvelous Connections.

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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Peter (Atlanta,Georgia.) Sat., Dec. 28, 2013 at 12:37 pm UTC
The Comment Marvelyn Brown made was really quite stupid. She initially thought only Gay Men and Africans were susceptible or at risk for HIV. Ignorance.
My problem with her and many others is that African Americans see themselves as superior and different from Africans just because they were born in America. If HIV doesn't kill you, Ignorance will.
And what is it about Africans that makes them more at risk.... same thing ignorance and poverty. We Blacks in America are just as vulnerable as African Blacks.
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Comment by: AnAppealToCommonSense (USA) Fri., Feb. 15, 2013 at 4:06 am UTC
Hi. I don't think Nelson Mandela should be included in this list. While his struggle against apartheid was admirable and he had an enormous task of uniting the nation once elected, one of the biggest problems of his presidency was ignoring the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. If you're going to include a former or current African president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia is a better choice, as he was the first to publicly admit to his son having died of AIDS and has been involved in HIV/AIDS work since. I'd say Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, too, but his recent stances on condoms and homosexuality are negating his past leadership (Kaunda, along with Festus Mogae, back gay rights). And I'd also say that 46664 is nowhere near as important as the work Zachie Achmat with Treatment Action Campaign (I know he's considered "colored" in SA, so I'm thinking he must have some black ancestry) or the late Winston Zulu in Zambia, both widely known HIV/AIDS activists. If this is only about Black Americans, then why is Nelson Mandela included? Again, I admire the man for much of his work, but he's already received enough accolades, and his inclusion comes at the expense of others who are more deserving of praise in this topic.
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