Diva Living With AIDS
By Rae Lewis-Thornton
September 23, 2010
Welcome to my Blog, "Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks" -- a collection and reposting of entries from my Web site, Diva Living With AIDS. As the first African-American woman to tell my story on the cover of a national publication, I have spent the last sixteen years sharing my life, style, hopes, dreams, and disappointments across the United States and even abroad. I never wanted to be a public person. I simply wanted to help bring about change.
As a young woman, I designed a wonderful plan for my life and by the time I was 23, I was halfway there. As a national political organizer, with eyes on the White House, I served as the National Youth Director for Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's 1984 and 1988 Presidential Campaigns. I sat in strategy meetings with great minds such as Alexis Herman, Secretary of Labor and Dorothy Height, the founder of the National Council of Negro Women. My plan was shaping up and I knew that this steady course would, sooner or later, guarantee me a position on a presidential campaign that was promised to win. And if I were smart enough and driven enough, which I was, this direction would guarantee me a position as White House Staff.
During this same period, as an up and coming political operative in Washington, HIV was also emerging on the scene. This mysterious virus literally scared the mess out of people. So much so, that once people discovered HIV was blood borne, the number of blood donations dropped drastically. When I heard the nonsense, I thought it was crazy! People actually believed that they could contract HIV, if they donated blood. In my attempt to combat the madness, I organized a blood drive in the winter of 1986. The previous year, they had just patented the HIV antibody test and all donated blood was now being tested for HIV.
A few months after the blood drive, I received a letter from the Red Cross. I assumed it was a thank you and laid it on my counter. I nonchalantly opened the letter telling me that something was wrong with the blood that I had donated. The next morning I went to the Red Cross and they told me I was HIV positive. I didn't know it that day, but my whole world changed right before my eyes. I was so naive that day; I completed a 12-hour workday.
The years following my diagnosis, I peacefully coexisted with HIV. It didn't bother me and I didn't bother it. I wasn't sick, so I stayed my course. My plan was looking more successful each day. Little did I know, it was inevitable, I would make a clinical transition to AIDS.
AIDS disrupted my world and shattered my dreams into a million little pieces, but God picked up those pieces and reshaped the direction of my life. After living in shame and secret with HIV for almost seven years, I couldn't continue to carry a weight so heavy. I let go! I started to tell my friends and political family that I had AIDS. It felt like tons of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. I got a new walk and a new talk.
Things were looking up, but AIDS was unkind and it started to ravage my body and spirit. I went from three pills a day to 23 pills. I went from a size 12 to a size 6 in six months. I started to have back-to-back yeast infections and 21-day menstrual cycles. I became clinically depressed, and cried all day, every day. Things were looking gloomy, but God's plan never fails. Within a year I started speaking locally about my life living with AIDS and six months after that, Susan Taylor asked me to grace the cover of Essence Magazine in a cover story, Facing AIDS.
That Essence article placed me on a course of no return and pushed me into the national arena, as one of the most visible African-American AIDS activists in the United States. I was never much of a public speaker, but I had lots to say. I earned the reputation of being raw, candid, forthright, and honest. The fact that I met none of the stereotypes of people living with HIV was appealing to both the masses and the media. I used that fact effectively to challenge stereotypes and myths surrounding HIV/AIDS.
AIDS has been the catalyst that opened doors and drew people to me. This Blog is an extension of who I am and what I stand for. It is just another vehicle to give voice to my ministry.
A Diva Living With AIDS Blog will be true to the essence of my work and life as a woman. I will educate and inform through my eyes and life. Like in the past, I will address a gamut of issues including: HIV/AIDS, childhood sexual abuse, dating, overall health, politics, and of course beauty, Diva style. I am not limiting myself to one genre; the sky is the limit.
I made a promise sixteen years ago that I would be a voice for the voiceless, face for the faceless, bring hope to the hopeless and tear down barriers and stand with DIGNITY, as a woman living with AIDS. This Blog is another way for me to keep this promise. I am not a professional writer, just a Diva Living with AIDS and having her say.
Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks
Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.
Rae is an active user of social media -- read "Long-Term HIV Survivor Discovers the Power of Twitter," an article on TheBody.com about Rae's social media activities.
Speaking engagements: Inquire about booking Rae to speak at your organization or event!
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