Grasping the attention of the audience, a woman adorned in designer labels immediately pinpoints and audience member whose skirt revealed much more than her legs.
Rae Lewis Thornton held nothing back as she talked about the effects of living with HIV/AIDS and the once taboo topics of sex, religion and mental health among African-Americans.
Students filled the Blue Cross Blue Shield lecture hall of the Pharmacy building for the event, which was hosted by the Florida A&M Women’s Center as part of the “Young Gifted & Black” weeklong series.
The purpose of this event was to inform students exactly what the title states “Things my mama never told me,” Said Ronnica Harris, chair for FAMU Girls Rock. “We wanted to touch on taboo subjects such as lesbianism, atheism, things that are taboo in the black community.”
The speaker’s red-bottomed shoes and Chanel belt debunked the theory that claims a person can look like they have HIV/AIDS.
“I was infected with HIV at the age of 21, diagnose at the age of 23,” Thornton said. “I’ve been living with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 17 years.”
This statement prompted an intense reaction from the crowd causing pupils to expand and mouths to become agape.
Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist. Thornton rose to national acclaim when she told her story about living with HIV/AIDS in the 1994 cover story for Essence Magazine.
Despite her HIV status, Thornton has spent the last 15 years traveling across the world challenging stereotypes and myths surrounding HIV/AIDS.
Thornton said she believes that more African-American women are getting infected with this disease because women are having sex with IV drug users and men who have engaged in sexual acts with other men while in prison.
“The false sense of security is what put you (women) at risk of contracting HIV.” Thornton said. “Women are afraid to talk about it, because they don’t want to be alone.”
Jacqueline Murray, a senior biology student, said she agrees with Thornton.
“I do believe she is coming from a very objective viewpoint about the risk women take on contracting this disease,” Murray said. ” This is an issue that women are afraid to address and acknowledge especially here on campus.”
Yolanda K.H. Bogan, director of FAMU Student Counseling Services, said, “Women should know HIV prevention is their own individual responsibility and they shouldn’t leave it in the hands of someone else.
“If you can’t talk about HIV with the person your in a relationship with, you definitely shouldn’t be with them,” said Bogan.
As Thornton closed, she encouraged the audience to set expectations for how they should be treated.
“There should be an expectation that a man treats me in a way that’s deserving and the way God intended me to be,” she said.