Young, Beautiful, and HIV Positive: Marvelyn Brown speaks at UAB

By on March 10, 2014
Photo by Karah Jackson

For his role as Ron Woodruff, AIDs patient,  in the movie Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew Mcconaughey lost 38 pounds, so that he would look shriveled, weak, and sick. Many people’s conceptions of an HIV patient fit this image, that HIV must decay people’s bodies, inside and out.

Speaker Marvelyn Brown shatters these stereotypes. Tall, dark, voluptuous—this girl looked like she should be sitting next to Usher at the VMA’s. She is young, she is beautiful, and she is HIV positive.

Brown came to UAB to talk about her diagnosis (and her hyper-successful life since) as a part of a lecture series presented by UAB’s African American Studies program.

Brown, a Nashville native, discovered that she has HIV at the age of 19, when she was hospitalized with pneumonia. She spoke frankly of her diagnosis and delved openly into her personal life preceding.

Brown breaks many pre-conceived notions that HIV affects promiscuous/drug-abusing/homosexual people. Nope, Brown is none of those. She was in a loving, committed relationship when she got the virus, and explained that HIV does not choose a type of victim, and she  is proof of that.

Her frank discussion of her own family shunning her after learning of  her diagnosis was moving.

“I had to eat off paper plates, plastic silverware. My family was so afraid of me,” Brown said.

Brown began living in her car. The feeling of hopelessness was her constant companion.

One day, Brown went to get obituary pictures taken, so that she may be remembered in her youthful, beautiful form, and not as the weak, shriveled person she thought she was destined to become. After taking the photos, she was driving to her home in the Wal-Mart parking lot when her car spun out of control. Brown said that this is when she decided to take control of her life.

“That’s when my faith in God was starting to be restored. I had life despite being HIV positive. As long as I had life I was going to keep living it,” she said.

Feeling that she had little support at home, Brown reached out to HIV/AIDS group in the Nashville area and soon learned her capabilities as a speaker and activist. The newspaper, The Tennessean, wrote a feature on her.  Letters began coming in, thanking Brown for sharing her story.

To this day, Brown continues to share her story and break down preconceived notions and stigmas associated with having HIV. She has three pieces of advice that she gives all of the groups she speaks to:

  1. Get Tested
  2. Get educated
  3. Be responsible

When asked if she would cure her HIV, if she had the chance, Brown answered with a surprising “No.” She believes that HIV has given her life meaning and purpose, as well as self-love and self-respect.

“It gave me a lot of purpose. I stopped being angry a long time ago,” Brown said.

Speakers like Brown are fighting to eliminate the stigma of HIV. For more information on Marvelyn Brown, visit her website at Marvelyn Brown1

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