09/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Living With HIV/AIDS: Marvelyn Brown

For conversation three I bring you Marvelyn Brown, who is quite literally a "tour de force." She's a public speaker, author and champion of those living with HIV/AIDS. To find out if she will be speaking at an event near you check out her website,

For those reading this blog who may not know what HIV and AIDS are, would you define the terms for us?

People think HIV and AIDS are just words, but they stand for something. I am not telling them what it stands for; they need to do their research. If they have a favorite television show, for example mine is "Real Housewives of Atlanta," they need to skip the show one night and do their research. I need you to stop and educate yourself. This has never been about me; this is about whoever is reading this blog and their health.

Tell me how you got started in AIDS advocacy.

I got involved in aids advocacy after my diagnosis at age 19, after realizing that I was not unique that this is a human disease. I knew the power of my own story.

What is your story?

My story is of contracting HIV through a partner who I loved and who I trusted.

That seems to be the story of many young women today, especially young black women. How are you using your story to educate this segment of the population?

My story in general as it relates to African-American women is that I try to get them to take responsibility for themselves. Women are caregivers and oftentimes they forget about themselves. I am definitely trying to get them to give the same care they give to others to themselves. This is about women taking responsibilities for themselves and their actions. I need women to take control of their lives.

How can they take control of their lives in relation to HIV/AIDS?

Protect themselves, be responsible. The sad thing I hear so often is, "He didn't tell me," or "I didn't know he was on the down low." People lie. With that being said, you have a responsibility too; this is a preventable disease.

What do you mean by down low?

Down low is when a guy is pretending to be straight when he is gay or bisexual. In different communities it means men being with women while sleeping with other men. I hear women and men saying, "I am over black men bringing this virus into the community." My response to that is, "I'm just over the whole 'everybody-to-blame-but-me.'" People need to take responsibility.

Is there such a thing as safe sex?

People don't realize that there is no safe sex. What I am saying is that if you are going to have sex, no matter what I say, I am telling you to use protection each and every time, in order to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. By me saying there is no safe sex, I am telling you that condoms are not 100% effective.

How did you become passionate about AIDS work?

Just seeing the devastation it had on my peers and my community. The lack of education is astounding, especially since there is so much out there.

What method do you use to get through to your peers?

I use the get real method, the no sugar coat, the no BS method.

Can you give us an example of what you might say at speaking engagement?

I tell people the guy who infected me knew he was infected when he passed the virus to me. But I had a choice. I chose to have unprotected sex. I also have to look at the situation as if he didn't know, as if he had never been tested. Whether or not he knew had nothing to do with me contracting the virus, because I should have protected myself.

You recently wrote a book, The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive. Why did you feel the need to write it?

I wanted to give people the complete story, the before, the after and during. In interviews and at speaking engagements you don't have the time to tell the whole story. I wanted my story to be in places that I could never be.

Is there a particular audience for your book?

The youngest person who I knew was reading my book was eight years old and there are also seniors reading my book. I'm hoping parents will read the book and remember who they were when they were young, and pass that information on to their children.

How do you stay positive while dealing with the disease?

Since my doctor told me stress kills people with HIV, it made me realize how short life is and that a negative attitude plays a major role in life and can set you back. I do things that make me happy: I shop; I cook; I put myself first.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
We’re basically your best friend… with better taste.