National HIV Testing Day: The First Black Female Face of AIDS
Posted 6/27/2013 11:32:00 AM

Today is National HIV Testing Day. And even though strides are being made in treatment, rates still climb due to the fact people don’t know their HIV status.  Some still practice unsafe sex; don’t get tested and therefore, contribute to this preventable disease plaguing our community. With one test and a change of direction, we are greater than AIDS!  The theme of the 19th annual National HIV Testing Day is “Take the Test. Take Control.”

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already expanded access to free HIV screening for many people. For those living with HIV/AIDS, the healthcare law will help to ensure they get the care and treatment they need.  January 1, 2014, many of the ACA’s most important provisions will begin increasing access to healthcare for millions - including those living with HIV/AIDS.  October 1, 2013, people can begin enrolling in ACA-mandated Health Insurance Marketplaces to find affordable health insurance.

What started off as the “white gay man’s disease” took a drastic turn effecting people of varied races, backgrounds and sexual preference.  In the black community, rates soared over the years adding another epidemic to our community. But together we can be greater than AIDS  through knowledge, conversation, using protection, getting tested, and treated if  need be. In fact, go to for more on how to get a free confidential test through Saturday at area Walgreen’s.

When I saw the first black female face of AIDS it was a beautiful sista who would change the landscape of this disease.  It was my mother’s 1994 December issue of Essence magazine with Rae Lewis-Thornton on the cover. The title of her story was, “I’m young.  I’m educated. I’m drug-free. And I’m dying of AIDS.” It sent chills through my spine.  Understand, that could have been my story or the story of a close girlfriend! In 1986, during a routine blood drive visit at a Washington D.C. Red Cross, Rae received news of another word that would soon be used to describe her health and future. At the tender age of 23, Rae Lewis-Thornton was diagnosed HIV Positive.

She’s still here today, speaking out about HIV/AIDS and a host of other issues.  From , check out how she has survived  and informed others through advocacy and entrepreneurship:

 Prior to Rae’s motivational speaking career, she was on her way to a promising political organizing career. Having served as Senator Carol Mosley Braun’s 1992 Senatorial Campaign Advance Coordinator, Illinois State Youth Coordinator for the 1988 Dukakis Presidential Campaign and National Youth Director for Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 Presidential Campaigns, Rae was forced to retire in 1993 as a result of her health.  In 2009 Rae launched a line of bracelets, RLT Collection that she designs and make herself. Celebrities such as actress Sheryl Lee Ralph and Kim Coles, as well as, Judge Glenda Hatchett and Dionne Warwick wear RLT  Collection.  Rae Lewis Thornton's gift is to help people get passed their pain and live a healthy balanced life. For the past 19 years she's done that through speaking, press interviews, TV, radio, print and most recently in her blog. In January 2012 she is expanding her work by giving people the opportunity to have her expertise one on one through life coaching RLT Inspiration. The areas of life coaching are confidence, balance and relationships. RLT Inspiration will utilize her life experience and her seminary training. She received a Master of Divinity degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in 2003. She was licensed as minister over 12 years ago. Rae has done her PhD studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Rae graduated Manga Cum Laude graduate from Northeastern Illinois University. Rae is very proud to have received the 2011 Distinguished Alumnae Award from her alma-mater Northeastern as well as, deliver the 2011 Commencement Address. Rae has received literally hundreds of awards for her work in HIV/AIDS in the last eighteen years.

She became a minster, married and continues to speak life into others – though hers was threatened with her diagnosis.  Every day is not easy; but she admits with knowledge there is power to survive.  While I do believe a cure is coming, until that comes we must take steps to stop the spread of this disease.


Posted By: Julee Jonez  

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