Gina posted these words as a Facebook status update on the 19th anniversary of her HIV diagnosis. We're honored to be able to repost them here on TheBody.com.
On this day in 1994, I was given what I thought was a death sentence. I walked into Charity Hospital's obstetric clinic, made my way to the nurse's office, and immediately knew something wasn't right; she wouldn't look at me. And then she said, "You have AIDS and you're going to die."
It was devastating, embarrassing, and heartbreaking. I'd finally gotten my life on track. I was so afraid of dying AND of having anyone find out my HIV status. I told my mother, sisters, and my children's father ... and no one else. I was also afraid because I was pregnant at this time.
I met an angel named Margot on that same day, she gave me HOPE! She said if I did three things, I could live: attend all doctor's appointments, take meds as prescribed, and learn EVERYTHING I could about HIV/AIDS.
It wasn't always easy but I've always been DETERMINED to live! I gave birth to a healthy baby girl on November 29, 1994 (but just because she wasn't perinatally infected, that does not mean she cannot become behaviorally infected); and I named her Jamanii because it means faith in Jah!
I really grew up after my HIV diagnosis. I became SELFLESS, and I still am selfless. Over the years I've laughed, loved, cried, and argued with other positive women. Lifelong friendships have been formed and I am eternally grateful to all the women who've mentored me over the years, women like Linda Scruggs, Loretta Jennings, Mary Boutte, Deon Heywood, Dazon Dixon Diallo, Pat Nalls, Naina Khanna and my PWN-USA sisters.
Eventually I learned to tell my story in SAFE places (the clinic, HIV conferences, etc.); and then it was time to tell the rest of my family and friends, so I went on TV and disclosed my HIV status. People accepted my status and really showed me that they still loved me regardless of anything else!
I find it amazing that I was born on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, and was diagnosed with HIV on the day of his death. Fast forward to 2013 and here I am, an educated woman with two degrees, a wonderful mother, an awesome, cool GeeGee ("Grandma Gina"), an organizer with a wonderful agency (AIDS United), a board member of the Positive Women's Network of the United States of America (PWN-USA) and an expert on my HIV.
I share this because I know how easy it is to think HIV only happens to "those people." Well I'm here to tell you, HIV can happen to ANYONE who has sex without a condom. HIV does not care what's in your bank account, nor does it care how you look. HIV is a disease of opportunity. If you give it the opportunity, it will come on in! Be safe, be careful and love you enough to Take the Test. Knowing your HIV status is very important, and it could save your life!
I put myself out here because I truly care and would hate to see/hear that you are sick. Life has been really good to me; I have had doors opened for me and try to give back to my community. Jah has Blessed me with 19 years of living this positive life; and all I can say is, "Thank You, Jah!"
Stay tuned y'all; the BEST is yet to come! Next year, if Jah says so, I will be having a 20th-year blowout!
Gina Marie Brown, M.S.W., is a regional organizer at AIDS United. She has worked in the field of HIV/AIDS for over 10 years. She lives in Metairie, La.
Want to share your own "Day One With HIV" story of finding out your diagnosis? Write out your story (1,000 words or fewer, please!), or film a YouTube video, and email it to email@example.com. In the coming months, we'll be posting readers' "Day One" stories here in our HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed. Read other stories in this series.