'Young, Beautiful and HIV Positive'
By Ashleigh Taylor, Tiffany Williams & Black College Wire staff   

Activist and author Marvelyn Brown recenlty shared her unapologetic testimony about living with HIV during a Tennessee State University forum.

TSU's Women's Center, in conjunction with the Meharry Center for Women's Health Research and the Gilyam Group, held the event on Sept. 3 to highlight Brown's struggle and her message of preventing HIV/AIDS.

Before an audience of  high school and college students, faculty and staff, Brown recalled her first speech: "My name is Marvelyn Brown and I am HIV positive. Do you have any questions?"

Book cover
The Nashville native has traveled all over the continental U.S. promoting education and protection. Brown authored a book, "The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and HIV Positive," about living with the disease.

Brown has lived with HIV for five years. At age 19, she was exposed to the virus through unprotected sex with her former boyfriend.

"I believe he knew," Brown said. "He just didn't want to tell me. Still, I can't be mad at him. I made the choice to have unprotected sex.

She admitted that she did not have previous knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases, nor did she consider being tested.
As one of the most popular girls on campus, Brown thought she was immune to "slutty" diseases like HIV. She wasn't homosexual, didn't use drugs or sleep around. In her eyes she was safe.

"I remember (my boyfriend) telling me that he did not have a condom. I thought, 'Wow, he wants me to have his baby,'" explained Brown.

Lust and the lure of a lifetime with him sealed the deal. She obliged without hesitation. What she did not realize, as many naive college students do not, is that it only takes one time to get infected with HIV or any STD. One time without practicing safe sex or sound judgment could result into inescapable consequences.

Based on information from the Centers for Disease Control, in 2005 blacks accounted for approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population and 49 percent of all new HIV cases. African-American women accounted for the fastest growing segment of new cases.

"We need all students to get tested because this disease is killing us," said Jewel Winn, co-founder of the Women's Center and director of facilities administration.

The Gilyam Group, which hosts Women at the Table of Power, a monthly series held all over Nashville on various topics, brought the idea to TSU to bring Brown to campus.

"One of the Women's Center's main focuses is health and nutrition so they wanted to bring Brown to campus to educate young men and women," Winn said. "It was perfect timing."

Brown's emphasis is on protection, education and getting tested. Brown uses her consulting firm, Marvelous Productions, to promote awareness for men and women alike.

"HIV does not have me; I have HIV," Brown said. "I chose to overcome this obstacle by placing one foot in front of the other and carrying on with my life." .

She stressed responsibility and accountability. "HIV is preventable. I could have prevented this from happening. I simply chose not to."

Ashleigh Taylor and Tiffany Williams write for The Meter, the Tennessee State University student newspaper, which originally published a version of this article. 

Posted Sep. 16, 2008