Following her HIV diagnosis in 1986, Chicago-based Rae Lewis-Thornton made it her mission to promote AIDS education by speaking out at schools and colleges, writing first-person magazine articles, and producing TV segments on the topic. Appearing on the cover of Essence magazine, Lewis-Thornton was widely regarded as the first black woman to publicly share her struggle with the disease.
Now, Lewis-Thornton is using Twitter to expand her outreach. "I went kicking and screaming to social media," she said, noting concern that her message would not translate to Twitter's concise format. "I have no idea where any of this will take me. But I know the message is relevant."
Since January, when she began Tweeting, Lewis-Thornton has gained some 1,870 followers -- more than some Twitter campaigns mounted by national organizations. She has posted more than 20,000 Tweets.
"Once I get re-Tweeted, I've reached thousands of people in minutes," said Lewis-Thornton. "I'm keeping the message fresh. You haven't thought about HIV since you read that article 10 years ago. Now I'm keeping it in your face."
Booker Daniels, a spokesperson for CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said Lewis-Thornton brings a unique perspective by chronicling moment-by-moment what it is like living with HIV/AIDS. "We are inspired by her work and her ability to engage people in a real, candid, forthright, accurate, and insightful manner," said Daniels.
"She's reaching a generation that is not going to sit and read a brochure," said Johnathon Briggs of AIDS Foundation of Chicago.