Can you tell our readers and listeners about your personal history with HIV? How did you find out you were HIV positive?

I had gotten raped, and I had developed something like the flu. One of my grandbabies had passed away, and I came to Minnesota to support my son with this death in the family. I went to the doctor to get something for this flu, and later on they let me know that I had the virus.

Did you know that they were going to test you for HIV?

I had heard a lot about HIV. I told the doctor that I wanted a flu checkup, and to also check for that HIV thing, and that's what happened.

Where were you living at the time?

I was living in Nassau, Bahamas.

How long had you been living there?

Two years.

What were you doing there?

That's my home.

Were you working?

Yes, I had a restaurant.

Are you from there?

I was born there. My mom brought me back to the States, to Chicago, when I was three weeks old.

Have you lived in Chicago most of your life?

Yes -- I was in law enforcement there.

You were working for the Chicago police force?

Yes, I worked there for over 17 years.

Did you enjoy this work?

Not really. [laughs] But I had children.

How many children did you have?

I had six boys and two girls. I was married, three times.

You worked full time and you had eight children?


Wow, that's a busy household.

Yes, it was! [laughs]

Where did you live in Chicago?

I lived on the east side, west side and north side.

More or less all around town [laughs].

Yes [laughs]. I worked on the police force for over 17 years. I finally quit when I couldn't take it any longer. I came up here to visit one of my daughters.

Where did you go, to Minneapolis?

Yes. I just stayed. We moved up here.

What did you like about Minneapolis, compared to Chicago?

The gangs hadn't moved in, the drugs hadn't moved in, but then I could see the signs of it. I was just more relaxed here than I was in Chicago.

Is it really much safer, do you think?

Well, in '86.

Now it's not anymore?


You moved from Chicago to Minneapolis. Did you bring some of your kids with you?

Yes, I did. After a while, all had migrated here except two.

I had a son -- Leivery Van Williams -- who passed away at 33 years old, in 1995. He also had AIDS.

I'm so sorry about your loss. Can we talk about your son later on? Now I'd like to focus on you. You mentioned that you had been diagnosed HIV positive in 1994. Can you tell us how you think you got infected?

I know how I [pauses]. Yes -- I was raped.

Where were you raped?

In Nassau, one night after I got off of work.

Where did the rape occur?

At my house.

Were you alone in the house?

I was alone.

What happened?

I would rather not say exactly. Somebody that was important came to the house, and I felt safe. I let him in. At that time I found out what he had come for. He didn't hurt me really. I was going to try and [laughs] get down with him, but I was scared because he had a weapon. He didn't hurt me; he just killed me. But I refused to lie down. I didn't know about the virus at the time.

Would anything have been different had you known that HIV was a risk?

No -- there was nothing I could do about it.

Because he had a weapon?


You had known this man and felt safe with him previously?

No, I felt safe with him because of his position.

I see, because he was an important member of ...

Yes. He was [pauses]; I would like to not say.

That's OK. He was an important man in the Bahamas. You thought he was a man of stature, that he would act like a gentleman.


He didn't.

I thought that someone had broken into my restaurant.

I see.

That's why I let him in.

You thought he was there on official business.

Yes, yes. I didn't know him. I saw him before.

Had he been nice before?

Yes. We just came in contact at the restaurant, that's all.

After the rape, did you go to the hospital?

No. Like I said, he didn't hurt me.

Within a week or two, I started getting something like the flu. I was taking what I could to work with the flu, but it wasn't doing any good. Meanwhile I found out one of my grandchildren had passed away with SIDS [sudden infant death syndrome]. I came to Minneapolis to be with my son and his wife. I came here and went to a doctor. I was on social security. The money followed me to the Bahamas, but the medical care didn't follow me.

You couldn't get medical care in the Bahamas.

No. That's why when I came here, I went to a doctor at a clinic and had a complete checkup. That's when I told them make sure they checked for that thing, the HIV. Everything came back OK -- it was the flu. They said the last test hadn't come in.

It took about a month after that before I found out what happened -- that I had the virus.

Were you nervous during that time while you were waiting for the results?

No, that was the last thing on my mind. I knew I was not a promiscuous woman. This thing had happened to me so I knew when and how I got infected. When I checked things out, I found out this man had been doing this to quite a few people.

No one had taken him to court?


He knew he was HIV positive, I guess.

Yes -- he had to know. He's gone now. I wouldn't even tell my children exactly what happened when I found out that I had the virus. All my children were grown.

When you say he's gone now, does that mean he died?


When did you find that out?

I found out when I went back to visit my sisters in the Bahamas. Everybody was talking about who died, who did this and who did that. When they did that I let them know that this one was the one that had raped me.

How long ago was it after the rape that you found out that he had died?

About three months.

I was hurt because this man had taken something from me that I had been trying to hold on to. I was really hurt. I didn't want to go back and be in that environment.

When you say that he took something away from you, what are you referring to?

Twenty years of not having sex.

You had been abstinent for 20 years?

Yes, I had.

It sounds like this was a pretty traumatic experience.

Yes, it was.

Did you not go back to the Bahamas for a long time after that?

No, I didn't go back for a long time. I told my sisters, my stepmother and my brother to take what they wanted of mine and throw the rest away. They closed up my apartment and the restaurant.

How did you find out you were HIV positive? What was that like? When I asked you, you said you were waiting for the test results.

This person from the Board of Health kept calling, saying that she knew that I was here from the Bahamas and that she was trying to get in touch with me. She said she was a friend of mine. Finally I stopped and called her.

You didn't know who she was?

No, I didn't know.

She was just saying she was a friend on the phone messages to keep it confidential.

Yes. I met her. We had a meeting in the park. She came up and I told her, "I don't know you." She said, "I had to say it like that. I'm from the Board of Health, and you have been diagnosed with the virus, the HIV virus.

I said "No, no, no, you have to take that test again." So I went back to the clinic -- Southside Clinic. The test was taken again, and the doctor confirmed that it was the virus.

What were your feelings when you found out?

"I'm going to die!" I used to drink. I never did street drugs, but I smoked cigarettes. I know that's why my son lived so long. He never drank or did drugs. I wasn't drinking; I had stopped drinking.

I just started trying to give things away. I called all of my kids together and my grandchildren, and I told them all that I had the virus.

How many people were at this meeting?

I had all eight of my children.

Your son came from Chicago?


How many grandchildren did you have at the time?

At that time I think I had 24.

How many do you have now?

[laughs] Thirty-nine, and I have 12 great-grandchildren!

Wow. Is it hard to have a meeting?

Not really. When I say a "family meeting," we know automatically something is wrong somewhere.

I asked one of my granddaughters, "Do you know why Grammy's in bed when you come?"

She said, "Oh yes."

I said, "Well, what do you think?"

She said, "You have HIV, and I know."

I said, "How do you know? What am I supposed to do?"

She said, "You're supposed to eat properly, take your medication, and keep things clean."

I said, "How do you know about all of this?" She said they found out in school. She was only 12 at the time.

They're getting educated [laughs].

Yes. Some schools are not educating children about HIV. I was going out and doing speaking engagements.

How soon did you start becoming active? You said you thought you were going to die, and you were packing up stuff and giving stuff away.


When did it dawn on you that you were probably not going to die?

I found a doctor, Dr. Ron Schut.

How did you find him?

They told me at the Southside Clinic that there were infectious disease doctors there. This was after I got my head together.

How long did it take you to get your head together?

Maybe a month or so.

What did you do during this month to get your head together?

My children, my children. They saw that I was giving up. I've always been the backbone of the family. They were telling me that they had heard that you could live with HIV, and I should go and see what the doctor had to say.

That's when I met my doctor and my case manager, Terri Wilder. [Click here to read Terri's blog.] I got therapy because I had to have a therapist.

Meaning for mental health issues because you were so depressed about it?


It was a very good clinic then, if they acknowledged these issues.

Yes, it really was. It saved my life. That Board of Health nurse -- that's where it first began.

She really went out of her way.

Yes, she did. I feel that she did.

She kept on calling.

Yes. I really believe she's the one that saved my life.

When you met the doctor for the first time, did the two of you get along? Were you happy with him?


What made you feel that he was good?

He sat down and explained things to me. I get a little upset when things are happening and nobody will talk to me and tell me what's going on. He took time out and explained to me. Every step that I took, he was there to answer my questions and to tell me where I was in this fight.

At this point you had health insurance from the police department?

Oh no -- I had quit.

You didn't get any benefits or a pension or anything?

No. I quit. I just couldn't take it anymore.

Were you on Medicare or Medicaid or something?

A couple of my grandchildren had come to me because my daughter was in trouble, and they were in foster care. Some social worker told me that I could get my grandchildren and become a foster mom. That's what we did. Their case manager took me down to the Social Security office and I applied for social security.

Since they were minors you got the social security?

My social security.

How old were you at the time?


When you got diagnosed you were 55?

Yes. But I was sickly afterward.

When you say sickly, what do you mean?

Flu symptoms.

You were also depressed, you said.

Yes, very much so.

How did your depression manifest itself? Did you just lie in bed? What did you do when you were feeling depressed? Did you not want to talk to people?

"When I was first diagnosed, I didn't want to be around anybody. I felt ashamed because of my age, for one thing. I didn't want to be around anybody other than my children. I stopped eating."

When I was first diagnosed, I didn't want to be around anybody. I felt ashamed because of my age, for one thing. I didn't want to be around anybody other than my children. I stopped eating.

When you said you were ashamed because of your age, what do you mean? What does your age have to do with this?

I always thought that younger people would contract the virus, not an old person of 53 or 54.

Because HIV is sexually transmitted?


Did you think people thought that you used intravenous drugs or something?

Yes, or a sex worker on the streets -- you know, a prostitute.

All those are very negative associations for you: sex worker, intravenous drug user or just someone who has sex.


You thought people would think that you belonged to those categories?

Yes. I was worried about what other people thought, instead of worrying about me and this virus. People tend to judge very quickly. But now I'm at the stage where I don't give a care.

At the time, did you regularly go to church on Sunday?

Yes. I had always gone to church, even in the Bahamas.

Did you go to church regularly in Minneapolis?

Yes, a black church. I told my pastor I was HIV positive. She didn't understand about the virus either.

Were you able to explain things about the virus at the time?

I thought I had explained to her. Then she wanted me to start going to nursing homes to have Bible study. I told her no, because my immune system was very low. I was afraid that I might catch something to go along with the virus.

Did you have an official role at the church?

I was a church mother.

A church mother is an elder, a wise person that talks to the children of the church. I was the oldest one in the church.

At 54, you were the oldest one in the church? [laughs]

Yes. [laughs]

What kind of church is it?

An inter-denominational Church of God in Christ. We had white and black members.

It must have been a pretty young congregation, if you were the oldest.

Right, yes. This was a new church.

You continued to be the church mother?

No. After I saw where the pastor really wanted me -- she kept on me to go to the nursing home -- I saw that she wasn't understanding what I was saying. I just knew about what Dr. Schut would tell me: that my immune system was low and I had to be careful about who I was around. I saw that the pastor didn't understand, or I wasn't presenting myself properly, so I started going to another church.

Do you go to another church to this day?

Yes, I do. I'm trying to help get the black churches together to help with HIV and AIDS.

How are you doing it?

There's a nurse that works at NorthPoint [Health and Wellness Center in Minneapolis] and she's a member of my church. We've been talking to other pastors about having a coalition of black churches.

Do the churches in your area know very much about HIV?

I don't think the black churches know as much as they should know. Plus all the young people and older people don't know what they should know.

Do you feel there's still a lot of stigma about HIV in churches?

Yes, I do. The black churches in my area have only been into HIV and AIDS for about four or five years. Before that, they wouldn't even acknowledge HIV and AIDS to me.

That wasn't very helpful to you, because you've been infected a long time.

Yes I have.

You haven't really had church support?

Well, my pastor was respectful when we had to go on a fast or something. My pastor at the time would tell me, "Don't go on a fast, you need your nourishment." There were certain things I wasn't supposed to eat.

I feel that she was in my corner that way, but she was not understanding about the virus and going to places where people were very sick.

When you were first diagnosed, and you went to the doctor for the first time, do you remember what your CD4 count and your viral load were?


Was your CD4 count very low?

No. It didn't get very low until after my son died.

Did you start treatment back then?

Yes, but they didn't have the cocktails then.

I think it was '95 or '96 that the cocktails came out.

I had started before with that AZT [Retrovir, zidovudine] stuff.

You started with AZT alone?


Do you remember what drugs you took after that?

I took ddI [didanosine, Videx].

Did you have reactions or side effects from the AZT or the ddI?

With the ATZ. It would turn my nails black. My toenails and my fingernails would turn black under the nail.

Was that scary for you?

Yes, it was.

After that I started going to the [African-American HIV/AIDS] Task Force community meetings, and the Women and Families Network.

Are those HIV/AIDS groups in Minneapolis?

Yes, all these things I'm naming.

You started becoming an activist?


What gave you the strength to do that?

I'm watching everybody and nobody's understanding what I'm trying to say. If somebody would be still for a minute, I'd talk to them.

My case manager also talked to me about starting to get active, so I did.

Had you been an activist when you were younger?


So this is very new to you.

Yes it was.

How did it feel? Did it make you feel better?

Every time I would participate or do speaking engagements, it felt like I was getting stronger. Talking about my son also made me feel stronger.

It was very healing.


How did you know what to say when you were speaking in public?

I wouldn't write anything down. I spoke to them from my heart and from the knowledge that I had.

Your knowledge of living with HIV, and how you felt about it?

Right, and about appreciating life now, really appreciating it. Watching the grass when it starts growing, and the leaves when they start turning brown -- little things that really didn't make a difference before.

Where you also trying to fight the stigma and the shame that you felt? Were you trying to change that situation for other people?

At first I did. But then, like I said, I got strong enough.

I can give you an example. I was going somewhere on an airplane. I had had my driver's license picture taken before I lost weight, so when the people at the airport looked at my driver's license, they looked at my picture and said, "Is this you?" I said yes.

They said, "You lost a lot of weight -- how'd you lose it?"

I said, "I've got AIDS." [laughs]

[laughs] What did they say?

A couple of women at the desk would come around and say, "Can I hug you?"

[laughs] That's sweet.

"But I always feel that people want to judge you. Most people ask, 'How did you get it?' I tell them it doesn't make a difference how I got it. I got it, and now I got to try and live with it."

Yes. But I always feel that people want to judge you. Most people ask, "How did you get it?" I tell them it doesn't make a difference how I got it. I got it, and now I got to try and live with it.

That's a great answer. Do you think that helps to make people understand? Do you think that you're teaching people all around you?

I think it has. I went to a church in St. Cloud, a white Catholic church, and I spoke. Everybody sitting back there was looking at me. When I told them that my background was in law enforcement, and that I was a mother of eight children and a grandmother of 24, you could her them gasp.

At the end of it, when we were going out, a little child, 8 years old, walked up to me and caught me around the legs. She looked up and said thank you for sharing. That meant that somebody heard me.

Little things like that mean so much to me. If I can just touch one person that would listen to me when I say, "Go and get tested. Talk to your doctor. Take your medication on time" -- it means so much to me, that somebody would listen.

Have you ever had the experience of people saying: "HIV doesn't cause AIDS"? Or: "The medications will poison you"? There are a lot of myths out there about HIV and HIV treatment. Have you encountered that at all?

I've encountered it really once. My son's pastor in Chicago told my son that he was saved and that he didn't have to take that medicine anymore. That's how he got down like he was. If he could have lived one more year, he might've been able to get on the cocktails.

Nobody would dare come to me and tell me any of that stuff. I've heard before, from some of the women, that other people have said the medication doesn't do any good.

But they don't dare say it to you.

I've never experienced it.

Living with HIV, don't you get sick of talking and thinking about HIV?


How do you have the stamina to still be an activist, after all these years?

You know what? It knocked me down. I've lost all this weight. All I really do is go to some meetings and run my support group. I can't do all the running around I used to do. But if somebody asks me something, I got it -- I'm going to tell them.

Tell me a little about the support group. When did you start it?

I was on the Task Force -- Hennepin County AIDS Task Force. There weren't that many older people where I was, and the black churches were not participating. About five or six years ago, I said, I'm going to start a group for people that are 50 or older. After a couple of years I said, no: older people, period.

A lot of people were dying of what I feel was AIDS, but the doctors didn't classify them as being in the spot where they would have AIDS. "She's older, or he's older, and they live in the suburbs, so they wouldn't have any AIDS."

No one even tried to diagnose them or test them.

Right, right.

They didn't think that they were part of the risk group.

The "risk group" is people trying to love and be loved. A lot of people, they don't have AIDS because they're street workers or IV [intravenous] drug users. They're just trying to love, and be loved. That's how I feel about it.

Now with these new drugs out for these men to have an erection ...

You mean Viagra [sildenafil]?

Yes, and the other one -- C-something.

Cialis [tadalafil]?


Have these drugs changed the world for older women?

I think so. I spoke to this group of older women about AIDS and HIV. "Oh, [sucks teeth] I don't have sex anymore, we don't have sex anymore."

I said, "You haven't had sex in about 10 years?"

"Oh, well, I didn't say that."

I said, "Well, don't let somebody else's past catch up to you. This person might have had it, and transferred it to your husband or your wife, and lay down with everybody. Just do me a favor and go and get tested."

Age is no difference. You're loving, and trying to love. Or you have love and are trying to be loved, you know?

That's a really interesting way of putting it.

Don't let somebody else's past catch up to you.

Do you have a partner now?

Oh, no.

Have you had a partner since you were diagnosed HIV positive?

Oh, no.

What was the reason that you decided to become abstinent?

I couldn't find a working man, a man that would just catch my eye. I've been married three times, divorced three times. I had my children. All my children are grown. I had six boys.

Why did you decide not to look for a partner after you were diagnosed?

I was scared that I might infect somebody. My T cells were very low.

How low?

At that time it was like 190 or something like that. That's when I was diagnosed with AIDS, after my son died.

That was the lowest you think your T-cell count went?

I think so.

Do you know what your viral load was at that time?

I don't know. But I know I'm undetectable now, and I have over 500 T cells.

What HIV medications are you on now?

Oh God, what's the name of this thing? One pill a day.

Atripla [efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC].

Yes, yes, yes.

How is it?

It's great.

Do you just take it before you go to sleep?

Yes, I do. But I have other medications for aging, arthritis, depression -- different stuff. Atripla is the one pill that I will not miss, and I feel that it's working. My doctor feels that it's working.

That's a very good CD4 count you have. Have you had any other symptoms in the past 10 years or so, besides the flu symptoms you mentioned earlier?

Oh yes: rashes, diarrhea, blackness of the nails. That came from AZT, but I'm not on that now. My nails are nice and clear again. Also, I have blood clots and they can't figure out where they come from. I'm blind in my right eye.

Why are you blind in your eye? How did that happen?

Blood clots. I had two clots in my lungs as well. I don't think that was AIDS-related. I had four attacks of pneumonia this year. It was bacterial pneumonia, it wasn't, what do you call that AIDS-related pneumonia?

PCP [pneumocystis pneumonia].

Yes -- I didn't have that.

You just got sick -- they didn't think it was related?


You did mention that you raised some of your grandchildren as well.


Are they also grown? How many did you raise?


For how long did they live with you?

For about three years. My daughter convinced the state that she had gotten herself back together. The state gave her children back to her. When they gave them back to her, that's when I left and went to the Bahamas to live. Arthritis and this cold weather were not helping me. It was in November that I left. In January, I think, I had to come back because the middle grandson that I was raising had gotten shot; he got killed.

The other two grandchildren are grown. He would've been grown too.

What advice would you give to someone who just found out they were HIV positive?

[laughs] I've had a few of those people. I was in the hospital a couple of times. Once while I was there, a lady said, "What are you here for?"

I told her, "I've got the virus."

She said, "Oh, poor thing!"

I said, "What are you here for?" She gave me her symptoms.

I said, "Oh my God," to myself.

Then I was getting ready to leave the hospital. The doctor came and took the lady out of the room to talk to her. When she came back in, she and I made eye contact. She started to cry and I started crying with her. She had found out that she had the virus also. She was a young white girl with brown hair.

I started her going to support groups, I got her Terri as her case manager and got her started right away with everything -- got her hooked up. Then she went downhill, to 95 pounds.

I had told her about a group that I was in, and that she should come sometime. A few months later I went to group and she was sitting there. I thought, "What is this woman looking at me like this for?" And then I recognized who she was. I called her name, and she and I ran together and we started hugging. She's a case manager now.

She wasn't a case manager at the time?

No. She was an alcoholic. She was a little bitty thing. Now she's married -- she just got married a few years ago -- and she's a case manager. I call her my daughter.

What did you tell her when she was crying? How did you help her see that you can live a full life with HIV? What did you say to her?

I told her, "It's OK to cry, because I'm crying with you. When you get out of here, you get up off your you-know-what and get started. Go and find a doctor." And Terri Wilder walked in, and she took it from there.

Terri was your case manager?

Yes. She was my case manager and my son's case manager. That's what made us unique [laughs]. Dr. Schut was my doctor and my son's doctor, once my son got here on his last leg.

I love Terri so much. But when I first talked to her as a case manager, I heard that Southern accent. I said, "Oh my God, I've heard about people in the South!" I thought she wasn't going to be able to help me, until I met her. Then I found out she was a little piece of dynamite! Whatever she tried to do she succeeded in helping. Yes, that's my heart.

You feel fortunate to have had a great case manager.

Oh yes. She was there right after my son passed. She was there while he was passing. I love her so much. Oh God. I love my doctor. The whole clinic is so nice and respectful!

What's the name of the clinic?

Hennepin County Infectious Disease Clinic.

You're lucky to have found a good clinic! How do you think HIV has changed you?

I think it's made me more sensitive, more alert and more outspoken. When I told people that I was an activist, people would tell me, "Don't say that! Just say that you're an advocate."

No. I'm an AIDS activist. I've never been outspoken like this!

Have you lost friends because of your outspokenness?

I've lost friends by telling them that I was infected.

What did they say?

They just never called or came around anymore. So I said, well, I didn't need them in the first place. If they couldn't help me now, you know, just talk to me or hug me -- women and men friends -- then I didn't need them in the first place. They were not friends in the first place.

When you told people whom you were afraid to tell that you had HIV, how did they react?

They reacted very friendly at first. Then I just didn't see them anymore, the people that were supposed to have been my friends.

What about your family -- all your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Are they OK with you being open about your HIV status?

Yes; and when they see people that are at risk or having risky behaviors, they also tell them to go and get tested.

So they're all advocates?

Yes! People ask them, "How do you know so much about HIV?"

They say, "My mom is infected." They're behind me.

I feel very fortunate.

Is that unusual? You have 51 people, with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- I'm not even counting your own kids -- who are behind you.

Yes, yes. I feel so fortunate. I just got a new woman in the group last week. Honestly: She said her mother came to visit her, and for 10 days she wouldn't eat any of her food or drink anything out of her glasses. She just lived off of yogurt and something else. She was afraid she was going to catch the virus from her daughter.

Women can come from anywhere in Minneapolis to the OWWLs group?


And it's free?

Yes, for women of any age.

So it's not just for older women. Can younger women come?

Yes. It's for "wise ladies," so that's open.

What do you talk about in this group?

We have guest speakers come in. If there's no guest speaker and someone needs time to talk about something that's happened since the last time the group met, they talk about it. More than likely someone in the group has gone through what they're going through.

So they share their experience.

Yes. There are also women that come that are affected by but not infected with the virus: Their husband is living with AIDS, or their boyfriend is living with AIDS.

I wanted to talk a little bit about your son Leivery. How did you feel when it turned out that you ended up with the same disease as he had? Did it make you stronger in a way, because you knew that you loved him, and he was worthy of love whether he had HIV or not? Did it help you with your strength in some ways?

Yes, it really did.

When he told you, did he think he had been infected a long time?

Yes. He really didn't have to tell me. He had scoliosis. He had had surgery on his back and they put a rod in there. At that time he had swollen up and everything, and we were wondering what was going on. He was a professional dancer. [His stage name was "Lei."] He never smoked, he never drank. He was in good health. When he got sick after the surgery, they found out he had the virus.

Did he work for a dance company? What company did he work for?

Joel Hall Studios, in Chicago.

Was your son gay?


Did everyone know he was gay?

Yes. He had a partner. His partner is still in touch with me. He's not infected.

Every day that I was going over there, my son was there with me. Terri got him out of there because she felt that I didn't need him right here with me. He needed special help. He wouldn't leave; he was dying. He didn't want to go because he knew what I still had to go through.

I released him; I told him, "I think you've done a very good job. Get your rest." My daughter and I were there, and he went on home.

How old was he when he died?


Was his partner with him also?

He came when I called him. We've been in close contact for 12 or 13 years.

Do you think that gay people are becoming more accepted in the world you live in?

They have always been accepted in my world, because they're human beings! A lot of people want to say, "I'm not gay, and I don't have to worry about gay people."

I say, "I'm not gay either, but I'm living with them." I don't feel that they're any different than me. Who says that I'm right for being crazy enough to have eight babies? [laughs] Right now I wouldn't say that's "normal," [laughs] but I wouldn't give one of them back.

My son thanked me for giving him life, and not getting rid of him before he died. Everything makes me stronger.

Do you have a particular health regimen that keeps you well, like vitamins? Do you eat very healthily? Do you exercise?

No. I have a physical therapist coming in now to help me be able to walk and stuff. I can walk, but I've been falling lately.

Do you think you're getting really good care?

I know I am; I know I am. I always tell people when I do my speaking engagements that I'm going to lick this thing. I am a positive person about this AIDS and HIV. I try to help the ladies in my group to empower themselves and to be advocates.

That's great.


We need more people like you.

Yes. People say to me, "You're so strong." I'm not strong; they just don't know.

You don't think people know their own strength?

Right! I don't baby anybody. I tell them just like it is. At first they would get kind of upset with me. I said well, I have to tell you like it is. I want them to realize what I say and what somebody else might say, so they won't get angry and just stop their treatments and stuff.

With that we have to bring this interview to close. Lois, it's been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

I really appreciate you giving me this chance. Maybe somebody out there, maybe one person, might be able to save themselves.

Well, you're definitely an inspiration!

Thank you so much.

For more information about the OWWLs group, including meeting time and location in Minneapolis, please contact Lois Crenshaw at 612-284-5609.

This podcast is a part of the series This Positive Life. To subscribe to this series, click here.

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Lois Crenshaw

About Lois Crenshaw

Home: Minneapolis, Minn.

As a 17-year veteran of the Chicago police department and the mother of eight children, Lois Crenshaw knows how to roll with the punches. That may be why, despite being shocked by an HIV diagnosis at the age of 55 after she'd been raped, Lois has become a leader and a role model for older women with HIV.

Lois Crenshaw

Lois Crenshaw


Leivery "Lei" Van Williams