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[MUSIC] When I agreed to do the cover of Essence, I just knew that it felt right. And lookin' back 20 years, I'm just so grateful that Susan Taylor took a risk. It was a cover that was reserved for supermodels or celebrities. And they took a chance with this. Middle class black woman to tell my story. It wasn't me it was something for a greater good. Just really grateful that I did it and I'm grateful for Essence for doing it. The Essence story made me national. But I have been living with HIV, in secret for seven years. In my first seven years, I told five people that I was infected with HIV. Other than the men I dated, I really did keep my HIV status a secret. And then I made a transition to AIDS. And the life expectancy back then for somebody with full blown AIDS was 3 years. Theirs. And I felt that I needed to tell people in my life that I was infected. I systematically started to tell friends. And on a fluke someone asked me to speak at a school. And I noticed about the third workshop that there were students that were still there. And I went to the teacher and I said are you making kids stay. And she said no, they're skipping class to hear you speak again. And I woke up in the morning thinking about it. I went to bed thinking about it. And I knew that this was what God wanted me to do with my life. [MUSIC] I've lived with HIV for 31 years. I have known my HIV status for 29 of the 31 years. And I've had Aids for 20 [MUSIC] The cover of Essence says, facing AIDS. Young, educated, drug-free, and dying of AIDS. I was dying. I've lived longer than most people have that developed full blown AIDS during that period. I just never gave up. We didn't have the treatment and care that we have now. I'm one of those people who started out with first generation AZT. And now we have over 30 medicines to treat HIV. People still feel a certain way about people with HIV. There is still a lot of shame. Women are afraid to disclose to partners because they think that they'll be rejected. There is still an enormous amount of stigma around this disease. You would be surprised now. Because AIDS is out of sight, out of mind. People are living longer. What people still don't know about how you become infected with this disease? And so we've come a long way in the 20 years since I was on the cover of Essence. But we still have so much further to go. What the life in the twenty years he's given me is to deconstruct all the demons to make me a better woman. And I'm telling you now, I like me, like, I like me, who I am, what I think, how I do it and that's a good thing. I see every new week, I see every new day, I see every hour as new with a new possibility. I don't know what's gonna happen next and so I just keep giving it a try. I don't always get it right but at least I try and trying is half the ball game. [MUSIC]

Twenty Years Later: Rae Lewis-Thornton

Hear from the woman who gave a face to the AIDS epidemic with her 1994 ESSENCE cover and became an activist in the process.