If you don't know what a young, beautiful and HIV positive woman looks like, meet Marvelyn Brown. When she was only a teenager and far from "loose," Brown discovered she contracted HIV/AIDS from her then 24-year-old boyfriend. Finding out about her disease was only by chance, and now she's making sure women across the country are more in control of their fate. In her memoir, "The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and (HIV) Positive (Amistad)," the native Tennessean shares her personal and inspiring story of life before, during and after her unalterable diagnosis.
Now she's traveling with her company, Marvelous Connections, to speak about her experiences and to promote wise, responsible decisions among today's youth. Brown, 24, tells ESSENCE.com why she feels Black women are being infected, why HIV is not an adjective and why National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (February 7) is essential for today's generation.
ESSENCE.COM: When did you find out you had contracted HIV/AIDS?
MARVELYN BROWN: I was 19. I found out when I was in the hospital, but it was not related to HIV at all. I was having complications with pneumonia when the doctor decided to test me for it. My initial reaction was shock. I didn't cry or anything. I wasn't shocked because I had just found out that I had HIV/AIDS and that it was going to be this devastating, life-threatening illness; I was shocked that I contracted a virus that I thought I was immune to.
ESSENCE.COM: Why do you think the AIDS epidemic is so prevalent among Black women as opposed to any other group?
BROWN: I travel far and wide talking to women across the country. A lot of [Black] women tell me that they have let themselves go. They're so used to taking care of family and finances that they forget to take care of themselves. In letting themselves go, they tend to make -I don't want to call it a mistake because people constantly tell me that I made a mistake. I didn't make a mistake; I made a choice. When I was diagnosed, I was lacking self-love. I didn't feel good enough or pretty enough.
ESSENCE.COM: Why do you think National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is needed?
BROWN: First thing people think is, "Why does it have to be called Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day?" (Laughs.) People often misunderstand it. This is a good day for me, but in this day of awareness, some people will go out and get tested and some people will go out and learn about HIV. So I want them to take what they can get from this day and to continue to use it. The more we are aware, the more we are educated about this.
ESSENCE.COM: What encouraging words do you give someone living with HIV/AIDS who is losing themselves to the virus?
BROWN: I never felt like HIV could hold me back from doing anything. I meet people and try to get them back into the swing of things and I'm like, "How did you even lose it?" My favorite quote is, "HIV is not an adjective," because it's not. It does not define you. People look at HIV as a negative thing and it's not. It's a virus. Please know that life goes on. It will simply stop once you let it stop.
ESSENCE.COM: What is the mission for your company, Marvelous Connections?
BROWN: I really feel like I'm walking on the path that God has laid for me. It's truly not one that I've chosen. When people hear my story, they think I'm asking for some type of sympathy but realistically, I don't do this for me. I found something that makes me happy and I can also help other people in that way. I [contracted the virus] when I was 19, so I give people the full story and the steps that I made hoping they won't make the same ones. The mission of Marvelous Connections is to get people tested and to tell them how to be responsible.