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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
Kai Chandler Lois Crenshaw Gary Paul Wright Fortunata Kasege Keith Green Lois Bates Greg Braxton Vanessa Austin Bernard Jackson

Greg Braxton

March 2007

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Greg Braxton 

About Greg Braxton

Table of Contents

Personal Bio

How did you find out you were HIV positive?

It was back in 1994, and I was working as a salesperson in a motorcycle shop in Harvey, Ill. My supervisor noted that I had a very foul smell on my breath. Also, I was getting sick, having night sweats.

With the constant pleading from my mom and my girlfriend to go get it checked out, I said, "No. It's just a cold. It will pass." It lingered on for over a month. So I finally decided to go in and that's when I received the diagnosis. I stayed in the hospital for two days. The second day, I was diagnosed with HIV.

What did they first think it was?

"To fully process a diagnosis of HIV, it took me several years. That's only because my grieving process was kind of hindered through drug abuse."

They thought it was all kinds of things. When I think about it, it was actually more than two days. They did a bone marrow biopsy, which was extremely painful. They knew something was wrong with me, but they couldn't put their finger on it. They finally decided to do an HIV test. I knew something was wrong when the doctor came back into the room. Just looking at his face, you knew something was off. I still remember what the exact words were, "I'm sorry, Mr. Braxton, but you have AIDS."

At that point, it seemed like my life just came to a screeching halt. That was definitely a turning point in my life.

How long do you think it takes to process an HIV diagnosis?

To fully process a diagnosis of HIV, it took me several years. That's only because my grieving process was kind of hindered through drug abuse. So I never did come to terms with that immediately. It took a while, until after I got my addiction under control. Then I could start processing my feelings of living with HIV. Before that, I tried to numb it out, and just didn't deal with it.

Alcohol, Drug and Sex Addiction

"If someone came to me and told me they had just found out they were HIV positive, the first thing I would say is, 'Allow yourself to grieve.' You're going to feel grief. You're going to go through a process, and I'm just saying that it is a process. You'll go on the dark side of the moon, but you will resurface. The main thing is to get linked with support -- you need emotional support."

What drugs were you addicted to? How long were you addicted?

My drug of choice, I guess, if you want to call it that, was crack cocaine. I became an alcoholic at an early age. I wasn't even aware that I was an alcoholic, but I was, looking back on it. And that was just to overcome severe shyness, to be able to have normal relationships -- a girlfriend and everything else. Well, the alcohol gave me that. But it progressed, and I started dabbling with cocaine in about 1985 or so. I got really heavily addicted to it around 1992. It was only up until five years ago that I was able to break that habit.

You were diagnosed with HIV at what point in all this?

At the point I was diagnosed, I was heavily dependent upon crack cocaine. I lost many jobs due to alcohol and drug addiction, including being a Chicago policeman.

My crack cocaine addiction really took off when I was driving trucks. I was kind of proud of myself that I could go into any city and, within a half hour, find some drugs. That was actually true -- 45 minutes, tops. When you're dealing with drugs like that, you have to look to somewhere to get some kind of self-esteem. Although that's really twisted, I kind of prided myself on being able to do that. Not the most healthy way to look at it, but that's the way I did it.

How long were you a Chicago policeman?


I was on the force for three years. That was a fun time for me. I didn't really take that job seriously. I think I did always want to catch a burglar, which [never happened]. I did sincerely want to help people. Other than that, the job for me was just a way to have fun. I was young, and I lived for the moment. I was extremely shy, coming up. And then I discovered alcohol. It brought me out of my shell. I was also into fast motorcycles and girls, and the job just seemed to foster that kind of lifestyle. So to me, it was just a fun time. I was an alcoholic, but at that time, I had very few consequences. That's why I didn't know I was an alcoholic -- because it was all fun and games for me.

There was a little voice in the back of my head, though, that told me that someday, I'm going to have to pay for this. I kind of ignored it, but it was just a constant small voice in the back of my head. I really wasn't being responsible; I was just out to basically have a good time.

What advice would you give someone who has just found out that they are positive?

If someone came to me and told me they had just found out they were HIV positive, the first thing I would say is, "Allow yourself to grieve." You're going to feel grief. You're going to go through a process, and I'm just saying that it is a process. You'll go on the dark side of the moon, but you will resurface. The main thing is to get linked with support -- you need emotional support. If it's drugs that you've been abusing, actually, you need help in that area. And you need medical support. You need to stay on top of this.

"African Americans are dealing with so much weight on their shoulders -- social, economic disparities, and a higher stigma attached to HIV. When you think of HIV, you think of homosexuality and that's a big stigma within the African-American community."

But I would say, just allow yourself to grieve, and then, when you get through grieving, realize that HIV/AIDS is no longer a terminal illness. You're not going to necessarily die -- if you take care of yourself. You can live a -- whatever a normal life is, I don't think it's a really normal life, but you can have some semblance of that.

It's going to take a lot of work, and a lot of effort. It's definitely going to change you. ... There are lots of ways it can actually change you for the better. I know it's hard to believe, but that's the way it was for me.

Do you think it's harder for African Americans?

Oh, yes. Definitely. African Americans are dealing with so much weight on their shoulders -- social, economic disparities, and a higher stigma attached to HIV. When you think of HIV, you think of homosexuality and that's a big stigma within the African-American community.

We also have a lot of our young African-American men in the prison system. And things happen in there, and they can come out -- I certainly believe that we have a lot of African-American men that may have sex with men, and live somewhat of a double lifestyle. [They] identify as straight -- and in my heart, I believe they are straight, some of them. But for whatever reasons, be it drugs or incarceration, they may cross certain lines. There's a lot of guilt and shame attached to that. I think it's one thing that's not talked about enough. Look at that not just mentally; look at it scientifically, and put prevention methods in place to deal with that population. We don't even know how prevalent it is, because everybody's afraid to touch it.

You mean the "down low," as they call it.

Yes, if you want to call it that. When you use this term, it's not just about African Americans. It affects all ethnicities: the Latinos, they have this machismo going on. Caucasians, as well. But that's one thing that we really need to address. And I don't think we're doing enough about it, because there's so much emotional energy charged to that. You hear a lot of gay communities speaking about, "Well, they're not really one of us. They don't want to be treated. Leave them alone." And [there is] a lot of hostility from women [about men on the down low]. So it's a very sensitive issue. What we need to do is try to look at HIV prevention and care [with] a non-judgmental attitude.

How do you think you got HIV?

I got HIV from just being wild and crazy. I didn't inject drugs. Half the time I was drunk, I was heavily addicted to prostitutes. Some of those prostitutes might have been men in disguise. Any time you're going out at night, and you're having sex with five prostitutes, that can be a major risk factor, to say the least. ... At 18 years old, everybody was having sex, and I was scared to talk to girls. I only had one or two friends in high school, and no girlfriends. Alcohol brought me the girls. Once I started having sex, I just took it to the extreme. It was a form of addiction, in a way -- you know, the sex, the drugs and the lifestyle that goes with it. My behavior was pretty wild, to say the least.

Do you think it's easy for African-American women to demand condom use from African-American men?

No, I don't think it's easy. It's easier said than done, depending on what culture you're coming up in, depending on what you're trying to do. For some women it is a lot easier than others. You take Africa: that's extremely hard for them to do that culturally, there.

But you also take it here when, for instance, women who are addicted to crack -- their motive is to get to more drugs, plain and simple. They don't care what the costs are; they just want to get another hit, right now. They know that if they're going to turn a date with a John to get some money, and then they ask him to put a condom on, they're going to probably lose that money, because [he's] going to go to the next [woman].

So that's a huge aspect here. All these things kind of tie in together. The women -- it depends on: Are they having multiple sex partners? What's the situation with their significant other?

So we're all over the map. I don't think there's really an answer to that. But I think in many situations, condom use is difficult to negotiate. One of the things that could empower women, until they come out with microbicides, is actually thinking about using the -- some people call them female condoms. That gives some kind of empowerment back to the woman. She doesn't have to request that the guy use a condom; she could already have one in place. If I was a woman, personally I may be thinking along those lines to protect myself.

Did any of the sex workers that you went with ask you to wear a condom?

Only if they knew I was HIV positive.

But you didn't know at the time.

Well, I did after a while. After '94, I was still addicted to the drugs, and I was still addicted to prostitutes. The only thing is: I didn't really have a lot of sex then. Not that I was dangerous, to say the least, but I was trying. At that point, the cocaine was more important than the sex. As many people know, when you're using cocaine, after the first couple of hits you're no good, anyway, because of erectile dysfunction.

So I didn't do too much of it, anyway. In a sense, that was kind of a blessing in disguise. To be honest with you, had I been able to function fully, I probably would have caused some serious damage.

That's just being totally honest, because when you're on the drugs, you're not thinking in your right mind. You just want to forget everything and experience the moment. That cocaine -- it kind of really tore me up. When you take it, you become extremely paranoid. You can't hardly talk. You can't have sex. All you can do is just kind of sit there and stare. For the life of me, I can't figure out what the fun was in that. But that's what the reality was; it was a living hell.

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This article was provided by TheBody.

See Also
More Personal Accounts of Heterosexual Men With HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: chris chaney (boston, ma) Tue., May. 20, 2014 at 1:15 pm UTC
What a tremendous story of overcoming a life altering situation.
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Comment by: Bentley Mayas (London, U.K) Thu., Mar. 21, 2013 at 10:28 am UTC
What a good topic, I love who keeps his body healthy in terms of exercise. I am hiv positive for two years now. but i am healthy, i do not take any drug. My wife divorced me last year because she was negative. I have to live on, I a searching for a life partner now.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Tiff (McHenry Illinois ) Mon., Jul. 16, 2012 at 11:49 pm UTC
Hello from Mchenry!!! Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your story. And I'm glad that you are doing so well :)
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Comment by: Gregory Braxton Jr. (Chicago, IL) Thu., Aug. 20, 2009 at 12:48 am UTC
Hey Dad, this is your son Greg Jr,. I just wanna say that i am very proud of you for overcoming your drug addiction and never giving up on yourself and your family. Reading this article is bring back a lot of memories. I remember when you was in the hospital when you was diagnosed with AIDS. At the time i was too young to know what AIDS was, but i remember my mom, Tiff, and Pat Lopez in the hospital crying. I remember studying the Bible with Jehovah Witnesses and going to church on Sundays. I remember you riding me and Tiffany on your motorcycle at the same time on the expressway. Fun times!!! And i also remember praying for you after a family hospital visit. It was hard for me to see my dad so thin and sick. You could barely walk. As a child i always looked up to you and wanted be as cool as you when i grew up. And as a 23 year-old adult i still look up to you and admire your many great accomplishments. Even though i knew as a child you struggled with a drug addiction and serious health problems, you never quit, you never showed fear, and you continued to be a great father. Looking back on it, i really don't know how the hell you did it! But through your accomplishments you made me realize that i can do anything. Now i am a Criminal Justice major at Chicago State University with a 3.2 GPA, I am in the U.S. Navy, and i will become a police officer next year. I don't express my thoughts often, but you are inspiring the done great things in life. Last summer you bought me a motorcycle and taught me how to ride. Now I can't leave the damn bike alone! I will continue to pray for your health and i am happy i know that your viral load is still undetectable and your T-count is much higher. Talk to later Dad!
P.S. Tell Jamie (MOM) that I said hi
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Comment by: violet (east africa) Fri., Jul. 31, 2009 at 10:46 am UTC
Hi Brax am happy about your story i want to chat with you so that i can get advice from you to help my situation i face, am proud of you. congrats
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Comment by: Russ (Fairfax, VA) Sat., Nov. 22, 2008 at 6:05 pm UTC
Awesome job, Greg!!!!! Proud of you man!!! You've come a long way!!! Keep charging on!!! I've got a few more weeks until I take my test. I'm hoping everything will go OK. Your story is very inspiring to a lot of people. Greg, keep charging on!!
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Comment by: Enid Vazquez (Chicago) Mon., Nov. 10, 2008 at 8:24 pm UTC
I know Greg, because he's been active here at TPAN, where I work (Positively Aware magazine). I just wanted to say that he's a really, really nice guy, also a kind, gentle and loving person. I wanted to say that because you can't always tell from an interview - although look at that wonderful smile! Can't you see a good person there? : ) I also met his wonderful wife - love her. They are awesome. Knowing Greg now, it's hard for me to imagine him in his past life. That's the wonder of overcoming your past. He can do so much good today.
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Comment by: TC (MD) Wed., Oct. 8, 2008 at 7:24 pm UTC
Greg, I just want to say that God definitely has his hand on your life. You were obviously put here for a reason to help people and share your miraculous story and I thank God for you sharing. I do understand your stand on religion and do pray at sometime soon you will re introduce yourself to Jesus becuase he really loves you so. I sent long life wishes to you and many many more days of love life prosperity and an increased desire to do exactly what you are doing. Stay strong, God bless you
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Comment by: todaynegative Sun., Sep. 28, 2008 at 8:21 pm UTC
I started googling sites that dealt with people who are HIV positive. The past four months have been pretty stressful for me. I am an Army wife and my husband has been deployed for quite a while. To make a long story short. I cheated on him with a man a barely knew. Although I used protection throughout the night, there was an incident during intercourse that put me at risk for STDs and possible pregnancy. Shortly afterwards I found out that I was not pregnant but I wasn't sure about STDs. Fast forward 6 weeks, my husband comes home for R&R (two weeks leave if deployed for a year or more). I was nervous because I didn't want karma to catch up with me and I end up HIV pos, especially since I never cheated on my husband the 10 years we were married. I purchase the express home access HIV test and found out the next day that I was neg. I was relieved, but I knew that there was still a possibility that I could be positive at a later date due to the "window period". Needless to say I had sex with my husband the entire time he was home. After he left, I got tested again a little over 3 months after the affair and it was still negative. I am so blessed because that one mistake could have cost the life of me and my husband. I started to google sites like this because I could have very easily been infected. Especially because the guy that I was with has an addiction to prostitutes. Anyway, Greg, your story is very inspiring and I am happy to see that your story has a happy ending. Good luck!
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Comment by: BLACK PRINCESS (NEWARK,NEW JERSEY) Tue., Aug. 26, 2008 at 7:09 pm UTC
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Comment by: Becky Phillips Mon., May. 12, 2008 at 5:59 am UTC
I am really touched and encouraged by reading this interview. It gives us hope that living with HIV is not a death sentence, there is therefore life after testing poitive to HIV. I want people to learn from this story that loving yourself after testing positive to HIV is the greatest love of all. Do the right thing and you will live longer and have a healthy and normal life.
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Comment by: grace abah Sat., May. 10, 2008 at 5:38 pm UTC
Nice interview. Maybe i too will go public one day!
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Comment by: tendai Thu., May. 8, 2008 at 7:50 am UTC
Im inspired. LIVE ON brother. LIVE ON
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