02-19-2017  8:09 pm      •     

CHICAGO (NNPA) – Essence magazine Editor-in-Chief Susan Taylor heard Rae-Lewis Thornton speak and immediately decided that her story needed to be shared with her magazine's readers.  The December 1994 cover of Essence uncustomarily carried only one story, "Facing AIDS: I'm young, I'm educated, I'm drug-free, and I'm dying of AIDS" by Rae Lewis-Thornton.
The secret that she had shared only with the closest of close friends would now be openly discussed in beauty shops, at social gatherings and around company water fountains. Because everyone else would be reading about the most intimate details of her life, Lewis-Thornton decided she needed to have a long overdue conversation with Georgia Lewis, the woman she called mama.
Lewis-Thornton's biological mother was White, her father was Black and both were heroin addicts living in Buffalo, N.Y. Her paternal grandfather, Alfred Lewis, Sr., brought Rae into his household when she was a toddler. By then, he was 55 years old and his third wife, Georgia, was 34.
But Rae's doting grandfather died of a stroke when she was 6 and Georgia Lewis continued to rear her. Though they had a tempestuous relationship, Rae felt it was only fair to tell Georgia the news before she learned about it elsewhere. At the end of the conversation, Lewis-Thornton wasn't certain how well her mother had processed the information. But that uncertainty wouldn't last long.
"Two weeks later, my mama called me and said, 'See bitch, I told you if you wasn't no whore, you wouldn't have AIDS."
But most of those who read the account of Lewis-Thornton's life were grateful, not critical.
"That took me national," Lewis-Thornton said, referring to the Essence story. "I became in demand as a speaker. People started to bring me across the country."
She was accompanied on those trips by Kenneth, her husband of four months.
"He said that I was his ministry," Lewis-Thornton said. "He believed that he was supposed to be in my life during this period and he was supposed to be there and watch me and be there to support me as I made my transition to death. And he was going to go around the country and talk about what it was like to be my caregiver."
But when Lewis-Thornton didn't die, the marriage did and the couple got a divorce.
When Rae decided to date again, she had to face a new reality.
She explained, "The stigma around HIV makes it complicated for men who are attracted to me to say, 'You know what? I can do this.' It's not them per se, it's the stigma."
Now if a man openly dated Lewis-Thornton, the whole world would know that he was dating a woman with AIDS, raising questions about his HIV status and whether other women will want to risk dating him.
"It becomes a very tiresome and a sad thing that men didn't want to be with me publicly, didn't want to say that, 'Yes, I date her and I think she's a wonderful person' as opposed to doing it in the dark," she said.
Lewis-Thornton is more than the sum total of AIDS. She was a political organizer as a teen, working on the campaign of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and later the two presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson. But the drain of AIDS cut short her career as a political strategist and altered the quality of her life.
"At the end of April, I started an intravenous drip, where you take an IV internally, in my arms," she said. "I had to receive the drip twice a day, two hours a day at home and infuse myself because home health care does not send out a nurse to infuse you. And that medicine made me sick and tired and lethargic. Some days I felt like I couldn't get up and brush my teeth.
"People would call me and say, 'How are you doing, girl?' I'd say, 'I'm tired.' And they'd say, 'Okay, I'll keep you in my prayers.' Has anyone thought that I can't stand over a stove and cook? Or, if I say, 'It took everything I had to get up and brush my teeth this morning,' they say, 'I'll keep you in my prayers.' People don't get it. I look normal and I sound normal, but managing HIV requires a lot of work. And you have to manage it well because it will mean the difference between life and death."
She has thought about both life and death.
"I'm not afraid of death, I'm okay with death," she declared. "It's the dying that's the hard part, the loss of your faculties, the loss of who you are and what you are and what you do. Unless you just get hit by a bus, a chronic illness that kills you is a slow process and there are so many stages to that. The death is easy."
But life isn't.
"I've had a lot of physical changes with HIV," Lewis-Thornton explained. "That's been a huge adjustment for me, emotionally, especially being an attractive woman. People say, 'Get over it, it's no big deal. You're still cute.'
"You go from a size 12 to a size two. At some point, I was a size zero. And I went back up to a size six. That was fine. And then, out of nowhere, I went to a size 12 at the top part of my body and I shrank to a size two at the bottom part of my body. And I got a hump in my back and I got a chin pouch and I looked like I was six months pregnant."
The uneven redistribution of weight happens when women, such as Lewis-Thornton, suffer from lipodystrophy, a side effect of a class of anti-HIV drugs called HAART.
She also suffers from peripheral neuropathy, which is damage to the communications network that transmits information from the central nervous system to different parts of the body. Generally, it creates severe burning and a tingling sensation in the hands or feet.  In Lewis-Thornton's case, it feels like someone is constantly sticking pins and needles into the bottom of her feet.  
"I had to fight with my HIV," she explained. "So the way I did it back then, I would say, 'Okay, I woke up this morning and all I could do was take my medicine and go back to bed.' Before the day was over, I had to make myself get up, brush my teeth, comb my hair and if I did that, then at least AIDS didn't take everything I had.
"So, there was this game I played with this disease, like, 'I can't let you take everything I've got.' And I still play it: 'I can't let you take everything I've got. I got to do something for myself.'"
Lewis-Thornton relishes her role as a pioneering AIDS activist, but refuses to be limited by that role.
"It's hard to divorce AIDS," she said. "What I'm trying to figure out now is what else can I do in addition to AIDS now that I'm still here."
Although the speaking invitations have slowed in recent years, Lewis-Thornton has not been idle. She earned a Master's of Divinity degree from McCormick Theological Seminary and is an ordained Baptist minister. Lewis-Thornton is close to completing her doctorate degree at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and has designed and crafted a line of AIDS awareness bracelets called RLT Collection (www.rltcollection.com).
She knows that regardless of what else she does, she'll always be known as an AIDS activist.
"My whole life has been ministry," Lewis-Thornton said. "I recognized very early in my life that there was a purpose for my suffering and there was a purpose for my life. God wanted to use me and I wanted to be used."

(To hear view excerpts from George Curry's interview with Rae Lewis-Thornton and other AIDS activists, visit www.youtube.com/blackaidsmedia  This series is made available as part of NNPA's support of Act Against AIDS and the Black AIDS Media Partnership's Greater Than AIDS campaign.)

Recently Published by The Skanner News

  • Default
  • Title
  • Date
  • Random
  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
    Read More
  • FDR executive order sent 120,000 Japanese immigrants and citizens into camps
    Read More
  • Pruitt's nomination was strongly opposed by environmental groups and hundreds of former EPA employees
    Read More
load morehold SHIFT key to load allload all
Oregon Lottery
Carpentry Professionals


Reed College Jobs
His Eye is on the Sparrow