I don't quite remember when I fell in love with tea but I do remember the most special moments of me drinking tea. I was eighteen years old and I went to live with my biological mother for four months. I had just met her months earlier and it was awkward for both of us. She and her ex-husband lived a very quiet life in Boulder, Colorado. He was a professor at one of the universities and she was a housewife. After years of drug addiction and being in and out of jail, she deserved the break. I was homeless so she and her husband agreed to let me come live with them. Each evening my mother and I would find a spot in the living room with a cup of tea and a book.

Now, years later, I'm a self proclaimed tea expert. I start each day with a wonderful English Breakfast tea to get me going. As the day progresses, who knows what wonderful tea I will crown queen. But for sure, I have at least three cups of tea a day. And yes, when I can, I have tea everyday at about 3:00 P. M. I love to invite my friends over for tea and cupcakes and so far everyone thinks it’s a delightful experience. I am always in search of the best blend of tea. Yes, I’m a tea snob, I prefer loose tea but I do like some bags also. I have learned not to judge a book by it’s cover. Some bags can be quite nice. And yes again, any Diva knows, what you drink your tea out of is very important.

Tea for me is a way of life. It's wellness for the mind body and spirit. Here, I will explore every expect of tea possible, with a high concentration on wellness. I will review the best teas, the best places to have tea, the best ways to brew tea, the best tea accessories, what tea goes best with what foods, and the list goes on and on. I plan to share my passion for tea with you. And I've been told, nothing I do is ever boring so be prepared to go on this tea journey with me.

RLT Collection Tea Ball Frosted Clear Beads!

Mint Medley by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

About This Tea:

Until recently I had never drank Peppermint Tea made with loose leaves. And Honestly, I will probably never go back. The freshness of loose Peppermint Tea cannot be denied. When I open the can of Mint Medley, From The Persimmon Tree Tea Company, I feel as if I stepped into a garden of peppermint leaves. It is a perfect blend of organic peppermint and spearmint leaves grown in the US.

Mint Medley has become a favorite and I find myself reaching for this tea tin almost everyday. It is great for on-going nausea. The health benefits and endless. It relieves muscle aches, headaches, migraines, stress. And now that it feels like someone is sitting on my chest and I have a mean cough, I'm sure it will help to relieve some of this congestion in my chest. Mint Medley has been in my tea cup more than any tea as of late. It has really helped with my winter cough, congestion related to this bout of pneumonia. You can read my full review on The Persimmon Tree Tea Company Mint Teas.

RLT Collection AIDS Awareness Tea Ball!

Welcome to my world of books! As an pre-teen books changed my world. I fell in love with the writers of the Harlem Renaissance period and the more I read the more I wanted to read. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It spoke to my own degradation and gave me hope for a better tomorrow. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

I love to read! Inside a book I escape into someone else's life. There is something wonderful about turning to the next page of a wonderful story. Something intoxicating about the smell of the book and the story it brings to life. Reading brings me joy, and these days with my health in the balance, I find solace in my books.

I spent hours in my bedroom sequestered with the door closed reading the classics from the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes, Larsen, Hurston, Wright and Baldwin. Books became my escape and my salvation. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

Reading is the one thing that the pain of my life could never take away from me. It was the thing that helped to make it better. And even today, living with AIDS, books continue to be the safest place for me. It’s the one thing that belongs to me that AIDS cannot take away from me.The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS.

The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS. I have read hundreds of books from many different genres and I will pick the best of my reads over the years. I warn you, it will not be exclusively white or black, male or female, fiction or non fiction, it will be all of them.

I’m so excited and I’m grateful to everyone who wants to be a part of this venture. We already have 110 Book Club Members. You can email me @ RLTReads@raelewisthornton.com. The Twitter hashtag is #RLTReads. We can make this book club as wonderful as we want to make it. Who says that Oprah has to have the only ownership to a wonderful book club?

This Month We are Reading In My Fathers House by E Lynn Harris

Read along and join our discussion July 19th at 7 pm CST

For more Tea with Rae "Vlogs" Click here to visit her youtube channel

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You're Gonna Make It After All!

"You're Gonna Make It After All" was playing over and over in my head as I made my way to Chicago’s public transit system, better known as the “El.” As I strolled down the stairs, I tried hard to remember the other lyrics to the Mary Tyler Moore theme song: da da da da da. Who can a take nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? You’re gonna make it after all. “Yep, that’s it,” I declared to myself! I boarded the train with a huge smile on my face. You’re gonna make it after all!

Taking the train is a new adventure for me. Not one that I originally chose for myself but was forced to make. In October, I was so behind in my car payments. I had two choices: get them their money or give them their car back. I thought about it long and hard. If I really needed to, there was someone that I knew would loan me the money in a crunch. She would have lectured me (being like a mother to me and all). But in the end, I’m sure she would have come through. Another part of the equation at the time was access to my now ex-significant other’s car. So, giving up my car didn't seem that bad after all.

I mean it really made sense. Once I borrowed the money to pay the back bill, I was still going to have to generate enough cash flow to keep the car payments and my insurance current. And that was no guarantee. The economy had hit most of America pretty hard, including me, and speaking engagements have been few and far between. So I looked on as they loaded my beautiful Black Jaguar X Type onto the tow truck. “You’re making a smart decision, Rae,” I told myself confidently!

But now six months later, I’m winging it on my own. And honestly, the thought of getting on the train was depressing. It was such a convenience walking out of the door and getting in my car. But if truth be told, I had some pride issues that needed to be conquered. Getting on the train was dreadful. It was a painful blow to my ego. It felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach with combat boots. Ugh. I knew I had to adapt. “Get over it!” I kept telling myself that every time I made my way down the stinky, damp stairs leading to the underground train. But it just wasn't happening. I mean the train? A Diva like me should have a driver, but that was also a song I was singing to myself. LOL! This is the real world. And in this world, you pay for everything you get. So an occasional taxi ride and the “El” are as far as my money will stretch. I had accepted it by default, but I sure didn't like it.

But today, something magical happened as I strolled down the street with the sun beaming in my face and my Burberry wrap blowing in the wind. I could feel God’s presence. It was as if He was saying, “Hey Girllllllll! I’m with you no matter how you get there. Don’t you feel my warmth on your face?” And I could. That acknowledgment provided me with instant comfort. By the time I made it to those same damp, nasty steps leading down to the transit system I was singing, “You’re gonna make it after all!”

 I started tweeting and taking pictures with my iPhone. I knew people must have thought, "Who’s that rich nut?" Cause I was looking kinda cute and rich with my, "Im waiting on my next breakthrough," (i.e. broke) behind. I tweeted and Jenna Marie, who coordinates #TeamRae, tweeted back that she was proud of me being on the train and all. “#StillaDiva” was the latest Twitter tag I created as I maneuvered my way through Chicago using public transit. Yep! Being a Diva is also a state of mind. In the end, it does not matter how you get there, just as long as you do it with your head held high.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I hate when I wake feeling this way: like I’ve done 10 sets of lunges in 4 inch Manolo Blahnik’s; like I hadn’t been to sleep in two days; like I’ve been flipping burgers for twelve hours; like lifting my body is an effort; like I want to sit in a chair while I brush my teeth because each stroke of the brush makes me just want to lay my head on the sink.

I hate this thing that HIV/AIDS does to me that I can’t describe or explain no matter how hard I try. Over these years, when people ask how I’m feeling, I typically say, I’m moving slow, I’m struggling or I’m having a bad HIV day. If it’s really bad I do say, I’m not feeling well. But those answers are inadequate and people want to know what that means. So inevitably I get asked, “What’s wrong?” Even my closest friends, after years, continue to ask, “What’s wrong?” I want to shout it from the top of the roof: I have NO freaking idea or my brilliant self would’ve named it nineteen years ago! STOP asking me that stupid ass question and making me give you a stupid ass answer! For Real! For Real! We have traveled this road before and it’s frustrating. I know the underlying theme in this question is: how do we make you better? But it ain’t getting no better, so man-up, like I do. I have  AIDS!

Since my transition to AIDS nineteen years ago, I’m guaranteed to wake with this indescribable feeling one to three days a week. If I’ve had a busy week, like last week, (speaking at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and then the Red Pump Project event honoring me), it’s even worst. When “it” first began, as usual, I went straight to the doctor. The best explanation was that HIV causes fatigue. The fact remains, no matter how healthy I look, the break neck schedule I keep, or the work load, my workaholic self maintains, I have no immune system. This means that my body does not work properly. The end result, among a list of things, is this fatigue.

When my T-cell count started to improve over twelve years ago because of advancements in treatment, the assumption was that this condition would also improve. But that has not been my case. That has been one painful reality. This is just another way AIDS intrudes in my life. I don’t like it but there is nothing I can really do medically to change it.  A regular workout schedule does mildly help, but that is not always possible. Adjusting is what I have had to learn to do.  Learning to adapt to this fatigue means different things on different days and “it’s complicated,” just like loving a man. For Real!

This is how I negotiate with my fatigue. If I have nothing to do, then I give into the madness and lay around the house. I'm never really idle, so I read or knit. When it comes to personal endeavors, I pick and choose. There have been times when I missed an event such as Passover dinner with my girlfriend’s family because it required more effort than I could muster up. However, her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was a once in a lifetime event, so I pressed my way through. It’s the balance that I have learned to live with. I painfully accept the losses that come with this disease but I never surrender all of me. This means when I lay around the house, I at least brush my teeth, shower, put on clean PJ’s and earrings before the day is over. Diva Rule!

When it comes to work, the rules change drastically. When things must be done, or I have to speak, I force myself to get out of bed and “Keep It Moving.” I never cancel a speaking engagement unless I literally cannot stand. While I’ve recently been blessed with a team of people to assist, I am a one woman show. The buck always stops with me. If I have to work, I do. Now with the bracelet line and the blog I have added to my plate it’s over flowing.

 As I write this post, I’m literately sitting in bed with the laptop. I will admit that in a moment of self-pity I was thinking it would be nice if someone knew what was in my heart and mind and could write these posts for me. But reality always sets in. It is only me. My curse... My gift… My call... My life! At the end of the day, AIDS is not going away. There is no cure. Yes, I’ve been blessed with years beyond my understanding, but this does not change my daily struggle.

 No matter how I dress it up, Living with AIDS is not cute like a pair of my Blahnik's or Louboutin’s. AIDS is a hard life that I have been forced to adapt to. With this disease, the alternative to adaptation literally means death. So, I’ve chosen life over death... Despite the fatigue that plagues my body... Despite AIDS!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sugar Daddy..

I was delighted when Patrice Grell Yursik, beauty blogger guru Afrobella, invited me to her spa manicure party celebrating her birthday. I didn't give it a second thought. I responded immediately. I had heard that the Allyu Spa was all that and a bag of chips and I was not going to let modesty get in the way. This invite was priceless, a room of Chicago's top bloggers at a top Chicago spa. It was a lovely day of laughter, fun and relaxation.

Luvvie and I had been spending hours on the launch of my blog so this respite was needed for both of us. Food Blogger Coco prepared an arrangement of exotic spreads and cheeses that made the palette say, “Yeah boy.”

We settled in and the manicurist called us into the spa room three at a time. I knew already what I wanted, Essie Sugar Daddy. What else? When it was my turn I marched to the room and straight to the nail color display. To my surprise, they didn't have Essie, or OPI? Some brand called Sassy. Huh?? “This is not looking good,” I groaned. I bit my bottom lip and smiled it off. Brittany was sitting at a table and I peeked over at the purple nail polish sitting next to her. “Cuuuute,” I declared, but was not interested. I’m a nude girl forever! But the nude colors were extremely limited compared to Essie and I started to feel disappointed. I went from rack to rack as the nail tech looked on apologetically. “Maybe I should try something different,” I said to hide my disappointment and every one quickly agreed. I guess my Diva was getting thin, so I snatched up something I knew for sure, “red,” and quickly sat down. I watched as the manicurist painted Brittany’s nails, the purple was looking kinda cute I admitted. I turned to Karen and she was getting the same color. With only one difference, one single nail of a different color. “Hmmm interesting,” I thought. “But a bit too much for me.”

They both were staring urging me to step out of my box. “It’s only one time,” Karen said. Brittany chimed in, “It’ll be cute.” The peer pressure was so thick I could cut it with a knife. “What the hell,” I declared. “It is kinda cute.” And before I knew it, I had switched colors. As the tech polished my nails, I mumbled to myself. “What the hell are you doing?” I had resolved that this was a wasted manicure. The first coat did not impress me one bit, so I turned away. I became disgusted at myself because I was not one to cave into peer pressure. Now I sat waiting for my wonderful Spa day to end in disaster. The nail tech brought me back to reality when she said she was finished. I took a long good look at my nails and a smile came over my face. They were soooo pretty and the color was hot! “WOW, they really are pretty,” I declared. I marched back into the other room and proudly showed off my nails. I was happy with myself for trying something new. And truth be told, I know that Brittany and Karen have my best interest at heart. They just wanted me to be happy.

In the end why get worked up over such a small thing. It taught me a lesson: be as open in my life about the small things as I am about the big ones. My advice to all the Diva's out there. COLOR is in!! It looks like candy on your nails and that can’t be a bad thing. Don’t be afraid to step out of the box. I will probably never give up nude, but I will mix it up. What the hell, you only live once!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Worst Nightmare!

I can remember being told that I was cute from the time I was a little girl. Call it vanity, conceit, or what have you, but the fact remains that I was blessed with a certain physical beauty. Yeap, I was cute and I knew it! I carried myself through life unapologetically, a “fine” black woman.

When I appeared on the cover of Essence, people were shocked at how “pretty” I was. It was mainly because we hadn’t seen many people with AIDS whose physical appearance had not been distorted, let alone a woman with AIDS who could grace the cover of a beauty magazine. We had images of people with AIDS and it stuck to us like Gorilla glue. We had seen the movie Philadelphia and Tom Hanks’ character with the purple blotches all over his face (Kaposis Sarcoma) but, no matter how hard you looked, my skin was without blemish. Like most people, I too marveled over the fact that my beauty had been unchanged by AIDS. In the early days of this disease, I could have very well have had a host of things, dry peeling skin, blemishes, discoloration and thinning hair to name a few.

 I actually prayed that God would not allow AIDS to change my appearance. It was the one thing that I believed would be a constant reminder of this disease. To look at myself in the mirror and see someone I had never known would be the ultimate attack. For almost 14 years, I was home free. Yes, I had lost weight, but Americans are so weight conscious that even my size 2 was appealing to most. Then, almost overnight it seemed, I had to face my worst nightmare.

My body reshaped without my permission. I was embarrassed by this transformation. I went to my doctor for an explanation and she told me to “Get over it. So what, you are living,” she said dismissively. Then a few months later, I appeared on Nightline and Ted Koppel began the discussion with the very apparent changes in my beautiful face. I sat there, with mixed emotions, discussing the fat redistribution that was a side effect of my HIV medication. I was horrified that my face became his starting point, but at the same time, I knew we were educating millions that evening. Yet again, I had made my life transparent to help others but it was not cathartic. I flew back to Chicago overwhelmed with sadness and quietly asked God, “Who was going to help me?”

The next day, my doctor called to have a real discussion. I was told that I had Lipodystrophy. It’s a syndrome that occurs in individuals with HIV infection who are being treated with antiretroviral medications. I sat there and tried to digest it all but it seemed way too complicated. There are two different side effects. One called Lipodystrophy, which refers to abnormal central fat accumulation, basically a fat pad around the neck, abdominal, upper back and the breast. The other is Lipohypertrophy, which is a localized loss of fat tissues in the face (cheeks), arms, legs and buttocks. And the worst thing is that they had no idea what to do about it. The fact remained: doctors were a day late and a dollar short.

When they first saw this disfiguration of the body in HIV infected patients, they did not take it seriously. Now it was causing health problems other than vanity. So this meeting, while informative, provided no solutions. My body shape became as complicated as the diagnoses. I went from a perfect size 6 to a 14 at the top of my body. I was a size 2 at the bottom and my waist was a size 12. And, just when I thought that it couldn't get any worse, my cheeks started to sink inward and I developed a hump at the top of my back.

I was MORTIFIED! And I felt betrayed by God. “How could You set me up for failure?” I asked. I had lived so long with this disease without any serious defects to my physical appearance and now I looked like SpongeBob. No doubt I had been blindsided, literally overnight. AIDS proved to be a worthy opponent. I went straight into a depression.

That summer I almost never left the house. Not only did I not want people to see me, but I had absolutely no clothes that fit. I had spent one sad day trying to find clothes and walked away from the shopping experience feeling defeated. Then late that summer, I was introduced to Cornell McClellan, a personal trainer and owner of Naturally Fit Gym, who had a solution to my problem. I began an INTENSIVE training with him that included cardio, resistance training and diet modification. It took almost a year of working out 5- 6 days a week, but I started to see improvements.

Now, seven years later, I muddle through. There is a part of me that absolutely hates what AIDS has done to my physical appearance. Yes, I’ve had some acceptance, “This is what it is.” I fight back by making sure I’m well put together in all other areas (hair, make-up and clothes), and I work hard at trying to keep the fat under control. When I’m coming off a bout of illness, like last month, I’m at my highest weight, which means I look more distorted. I hit the gym hard to Get My Diva Back, as best as I can. But I must admit, every time I see a photo of me, I feel as if AIDS has won this round. I know that I am blessed to have lived so long with this disease. The fighter in me just wonders if I will ever shake this insecurity.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Ultimate Diva AIDS Awareness Bracelet!!

Emmy Award winning AIDS Activist, Rae Lewis-Thornton designed the Ultimate Diva AIDS Awareness Bracelet, exclusively sold at the Red Pump Rock the Red: Bold, Fashion, Awareness, March 25th. This event celebrates the one year anniversary of the  Red Pump Project and honors Rae's life time commitment to HIV/AIDS.

There are only 11 Limited Edition Bracelets. Designed with Angelic Crystal,11 is the number of Angels. The rich midnight color is highlighted with one cherry stone  for AIDS Awareness. It is completed with a rhinestone center. This bracelet is one way you can specifically support Rae and her work.

Rae Lewis-Thornton launched RLT Collection seven months ago.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Anyway I Can!!

As I logged out of my bank account, tears welled in my eyes. I had no idea how I had miscalculated yet again. This was not the day to be broke. I had exactly one hour and thirty minutes to get to this speaking engagement and taking a taxi was out of the question.

I sat in the bed pondering my dilemma. If I hadn't spent 30 minutes between Twitter and Facebook, then maybe I would’ve had enough time to find another way, but that was not the case. Now I was in a tight bind and I didn’t see a good way out. I knew that I couldn’t spend half of all the money I had on a taxi, but I was definitely running late. The rain hitting against my window pane only seemed to compound my dilemma. It felt as if nature was beating me with every drop. At that moment, reality set in. My finances were as murky as the rain on my window plane. “Things have got get better,” I mumbled.

I had long begun to accept that the broken economy hit me hard. As a result, my financial situation was bleak. Hyperion Publishers had walked away from the book deal of my memoir and that hit me as hard as the Wall Street Crash of ‘29. It sent me straight into a depression not only financially, but also emotionally. I had invested everything, including time and energy. I worked tirelessly on my memoir, crying along the way. I wanted to be honest and authentic and that put me on an emotional roller coaster but I did it. I left nothing out. I told on myself and everybody else but it was not enough for my editor. She wanted my story without context but I had learned long ago that text without context is pretext. I was not going to be the next Video Vixen. My life was much more meaningful than being reduced to a story line. I had even been told that I was a “poor writer.” It didn’t do much for my self esteem.

Yes, I had been blindsided by my publisher in every way and it made a bad situation worse. Almost two years prior to the book deal I had made significant life style changes. And during the early months of the book deal, I took the changes even further. I downsized my life in every aspect: from my living space to the things that I owned. I had a house sale that lasted for months. In therapy, I had come to terms with my spending issue and now I was proactive and feeling good about the financial decisions I was making. I had a well laid plain that would keep me afloat for at least a year. By then, I would be on tour with my book and making money. But now, things had changed.

So, two Saturdays ago, I sat in bed, listening to the rain and playing out my dilemma in my head. I could cancel, say that I was sick. But I had never done that before. Using my illness to deceive is not how God would have me to live. It was a small speaking engagement and I was sure that the crowd would be small, but that didn't matter either. I had committed, basically for little to no money, but it was a commitment nonetheless. At the end of the day, you’re only as good as your word.

 Swallowing my pride that morning was like swallowing a teaspoon of castor oil with Grandmama holding the spoon. There is no way out. So I pushed forward, dressed and made my way to Chicago public transportation. By the time I made it to the station I didn't have a curl on my head. I sat on the train thinking about it all and became overwhelmed and started to cry. I tried to shake it off but the tears kept coming. I knew I had to pull it together but the harder I tried, the harder I cried. No curls, now no makeup. What a mess, sitting on the train with tears streaming down. 

As I sat there wallowing in self-pity, a young African-American male boarded the train. He was dressed in an overcoat, baggy jeans, dark shades, a do-rag and a cap. As he made his way toward me I pulled my Chanel handbag a little tighter. But soon, I learned that he was only interested in my soul. He started walking the aisle and talking about how God delivered him from bondage. My tears dried as I listened to him PREACH. His words were powerful. “This isn't what I would be doing. My way is the wrong way,” he sang out. No sooner than he had my full attention, he was off the train. The last thing I heard him say as he exited, hit me like a ton of bricks. “It’s what God would have me to do.”

As the train started again, I looked over to the other car and there he was. PREACHING!!! I instantly, shook off the leftovers of my pride. If he could do God’s work, anyway he can, then so could I.

 By the time I made it to my speaking engagement, my hair was all over my head, my makeup up was gone and the bottom of my pants legs were wet, but I made it. I found a mirror and tried to get my Diva back as best as I could. But somehow, at the moment, it didn’t matter. Nothing seemed to matter. Not even the $49.00 I had to my name. What mattered the most was that God still had purpose for my life, and I was willing to do His bidding, anyway I can.

Note: Photo with one of my Twitter Followers Chris Vaughn, who made his way to hear me speak in the rain, of course with his camera.  LOL..

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Win Tickets to the Red Pump Event

I know, I know, in recent weeks, you've seen the Red Pump Project everywhere, the Chicago SunTimes, WGN News, ABC News, CBS News, Twitter, Facebook. You've heard them on the Santita Jackson Show, Gospel Radio and WGCI. Yeap, they have been everywhere. You've thought about attending their event, but.....
Well, now is your chance!!

Red Pump, is giving a pair of tickets to my readers/supporters for this anticipated inaugural fashion show: Rock the Red: Bold, Fashion, Awareness, honoring me as the ultimate Red Pump Rocker.

To enter the contest, send an brief e-mail telling me what my recently launched blog Diva Living With AIDS means to you Send your comments to my personal e-mail rae@raelewisthornton.com. If you have not checked out my blog, well, no time like the present, just scroll down and take a peek.

I will be the only person reading your e-mail, so feel free to share openly. The decision will be made on this Tuesday.

The event will be held on March 25, 2010 at Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake St., Chicago. I hope that you will join us as we celebrate both my life and the anniversary of the Red Pump Project.  

Friday, March 19, 2010

Legacy: Generation to Generation

 I was looking quite chic in my gray and white ensemble (or so I thought), as I walked into the newest hot spot in Chicago's South Loop, Three Peas Art Lounge. As my eyes perused the mostly 20-something crowd, I started to feel uncomfortable. Clearly, I had not been given all the information about this event. I felt soooooo out of place. I took a quick glance around the room. No one seemed to have noticed me so I turned for the door. As my hand hit the knob I heard someone call my name, “Dammit!” I mumbled. “I’m stuck and inappropriately dressed. Not Cute!” The woman who had invited me sashayed over and guided me in. Within minutes I was being introduced to this young African-American woman who possessed an abundance of energy. My eyes went from her fabulous blue blouse, straight down to her Red Pumps. “Her too?” I thought. This was a Diva’s worst nightmare and I knew it. Among the sea of red, my gray shoes were out of place.  For Real... For Real... “Clam yourself girly,” I kept saying.

 I took a deep breath as my host introduced me to the lovely Luvvie. I was dying on the inside with embarrassment, but I remain poised as Cathy began talking. “I don’t know much about the younger women doing HIV work these days,” my hostess explained, “but it seems to work. These girls wear Red Pumps to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS and it’s catching on fast.” Her explanation only increased my anxiety. Not only was I inappropriately dressed, but HIV is my business, my passion, my ministry and I had never heard of the Red Pump Project. “Am I that old? Am I that dated in my work?” I asked myself. My head became a bouncing board for the conversation going on inside of me. “This is not good,” I told myself. I shook it off as Luvvie reached out for my hand. Her warmth seemed to provide some comfort and reduced my anxiety. Within minutes other young women from the Red Pump Project surrounded me like I was a celebrity. I didn't know them, but they certainly knew me. They were ecstatic that I had come to their event welcoming beauty blogger Afrobella to Chicago and raising money for the Chicago Women’s AIDS Project, all at the same time. I loosened up and began to mingle explaining along the way that I didn’t even own red pumps. By the end of the event I knew that the Red Rump Project was a gold mine in the work of HIV/AIDS awareness. I could feel it deep in my bones and, honestly, in these last seven months of knowing them they have proven me right.

  Their unwavering commitment to HIV/AIDS Awareness is undeniable! Within a year’s time they have signed on forty Ambassadors in twenty states. These young women are empowering women with information that will save their lives. The Red Pump Project has sparked a new generation of AIDS Activists that I am proud to know. Actually, I’m grateful that God has allowed me to live long enough to see this new level of commitment among young African-American women working on this critical issue. With AIDS being the number one killer of African-American women between the ages of 24-35, it is fitting that women in the hardest hit age group would fight for their peers. This novel idea of placing Red Pumps at the center of AIDS activism has caught on like a wildfire.

Many of the women in Red Pump are bloggers and have successfully taken their activism to Twitter, Facebook and their individual blogs. Recently, they put out a call for 500 bloggers to sport the Rock Red Pump logo on their blog, bringing awareness to HIV/AIDS. In just 50 days they have over 200 bloggers on board.

This March marks the first year anniversary of the Red Pump Project and they are celebrating their anniversary with an inaugural fashion show: Rock the Red: Bold, Fashion, Awareness. I am proud that they have chosen to honor me as the Ultimate Red Pump Rocker. The event will be held on March 25, 2010 at Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake St., Chicago. I hope that you will join us as we celebrate both my life and the anniversary of the Red Pump Project. I will be there all night Rockin’ my fabulous Red Pumps (I'm prepared this time!)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Nambi: My Small Miracle!

Panic, terror and then guilt rushed through my head as I grabbed my baby who was choking to death. I tried to remember all the movies I had seen where they performed the Heimlich maneuver but my memory could gather no technique. All I could think to do was squeeze her stomach and stick my finger down her throat as her body was stiffening. I could see that she was fighting, trying to free herself from the terror that she was experiencing. I cried out to God, “Not now! I can’t take any more hurt!” I can’t lose her I thought. I cried louder, “Help me Lord! I don’t know how to save my baby.”

Guilt rushed though my body like a Chicago wind chill. I knew at fifteen, with bad teeth, that crouton was too hard for her to chew. I knew better! But she was barking and I was anxious to get back to work. This blog had taken center stage. I only had three more days before the launch. I needed to write. I needed peace.

But now, everything had stopped. My baby Nambi was fighting for her life. I was helpless. I remembered Oprah watching her Gracie die before her eyes and was saddened. Like Oprah, I wanted to make sense of it all. Two minutes into the ordeal I had already started to spin her death in my head. She had given me 15 great years. She was a wonderful companion, especially in those early years of my transition to AIDS when the quality of my life was reduced to home and bed when I wasn't out speaking. On those days, when my body was racked with fatigue and side-effects from my medications, Nambi would lay on the pillow over me and never move. She became my guardian angel and a reflection of my alter ego. She has been often called “Little Rae.” My significant other looked at me one day recently and declared, “That dog is just like you."

Nambi when she was young. She had so much hair! She's almost bald now.

Yes, Nambi has lived a long life far beyond her expectancy. In many ways, she is my alter ego, a fighter, defying the odds, just like me. I remember when the vet told me to put her to sleep three years ago. I cried and cried, and delayed and delayed. I had just gotten Sophie, who brought life to our house. Within weeks, Nambi had bounced back and was her old self. The vet thinks that Sophie saved her life. Now, Nambi is just old and you don’t put old people to sleep so why put an old dog to sleep? She’s been blind for two years but she finds everything she needs. She has a heart murmur and a small tumor on her liver but she is in no pain. Her collapsed trachea makes her breathing more labored at times but, for the most part, my old Diva is hanging in there. Yes, Diva. She won’t even sit on the bare floor. For real. I know death is for certain, but I didn't want it to be at my hands, that’s an experience I never want to have. I watched the vet as he put my Imani, Nambi’s mother to sleep and it took over two years for me to recover. I am certain I cannot watch another of my dogs die.

Nothing was changing, as I attempted to perform the Heimlich maneuver, squeezing her back and stomach, alternating with my finger down her throat. She was clearly choking to death. “Oh God, help me! Not this way,” I cried out. And after what seemed like an eternity, her face started to relax and her eyes popped back into place. I took a deep breath and then placed my finger down her throat again just to be sure. Her breathing was labored but she seemed ok. I put her down. She could walk but she was clearly shaken. The crouton didn't come out so it must have gone down. I picked her up, sat down and held her in my arms. I slumped over her body, and the tears starting streaming down. I was so grateful for this small miracle

Her old lady diva picture

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Get Over it Rae!!

When I woke up this morning I was so fatigued that I didn't want to get my ass out of bed. It was one of those days when AIDS took center stage. The fatigue that I experience from AIDS feels like I have been walking around with sandbags in my Chanel handbag, in Jimmy Choo stilettos no less. I laid there frozen in my fatigue. "Not Today God!" I cried. Yes, I have been working like a mad lady, but there is still so much work to do be done. "I need energy," I mumbled to God. I started to feel overwhelmed and depression started to set in. If I hadn't made this choice with my life 27 years ago, I wouldn't be experiencing this right now. I took a deep breath and fought back the tears. In my despair, Superwoman kicked in. I centered myself. "Get Over it Rae!" I demanded. "God has blessed you beyond your own understanding."

Yes, God has blessed me and these past two weeks are a clear example. They have been nothing short of  AMAZING. I launched my blog with the help of Luvvie @ www.awesomelyluvvie.com, it is fast becoming a success because all of you are dropping in. I am featured in the March 15th issue of Jet with an update on my life. I helped Ebony launch their faith section in their April issue. Both are on stands now.

Yes, the list of how God has blessed me and my ministry recently goes on. Yesterday, I launched a monthly column on HIV/AIDS and wellness in the South Suburban News online newspaper. My Spring and Summer collection of bracelets are at the photographers. I partnered with the beautiful AIDS Activist Hydeia Broadbent to design an AIDS Awareness bracelet celebrating her life and work. www.rltcollection.com. I started a Facebook Fan Page less than three weeks ago and to my amazement I have over 1600 fans (join!). I am being honored for my work and commitment to HIV/AIDS on March 25th by a wonderful group of young African-American women who run The Red Pump Project. I am so excited! I hope you all in the Chicago area will come.

Even my overall health is good. After just completing (a week ago) four long weeks of IV medication, 2 times a day, 2 hours a drip, I was able to beat this nasty little infection, with no permanent damage from the side-effects of the medicine. Yes, God has blessed me beyond my own understanding.  What the hell do I have to complain about? Get over myself is right! Yes, I crawled my ass out of my bed. I will not let AIDS wins!  Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever!!

God has taken my mess and made it a message, next to life, this is the ultimate blessing. Each morning I wake,  no matter the condition, I know that I am still an apart of God's Earthly Plan. I will not squander the gift of life.... It  is the ULTIMATE blessing from God!!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Celebrate The Life of International AIDS Activist Hydeia Broadbent

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This is a time to educate and reflect on the AIDS pandemic and it’s impact on women and girls. Every 35 minutes, a woman tests positive for HIV in the United States. African-American women are the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS, comprising 72% of all new cases of HIV. And sadly, AIDS is the number one killer of African-American women between the ages of 25-34.

Since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, there has been a steady rise in the newly diagnosed cases of HIV in women. Historically, in the United States women with HIV/AIDS have been underserved. In the early days of the pandemic, women were not admitted into hospital, AIDS wards, nor were studies designed to include them. In fact, the first natural history study looking at disease progression in women and HIV is only fifteen years old. And the first medicine study specifically examining issues related to women only began in 2008. The conference highlighted in this video was in 1996, fifteen years into the pandemic.

When I did this news report on women and AIDS fifteen years ago, I had been diagnosed with HIV for almost ten years. While African-American women were identifying with my two-month-old story in Essence Magazine across this country, AIDS was ravishing my body. Staring death in the face, I felt a sense of urgency about the work of HIV/AIDS. If I could prevent one woman from experiencing my pain, then my living was not in vain. Ironically, a little girl named Hydeia Broadbent was also fighting for her life and the lives of others. Like me, she wanted her young life to have purpose. Today, I celebrate the life and work of that incredible woman.

 Hydeia Broadbent stole my heart from the very first day. I remember it clearly, I was sitting in my living room and this beautiful African-American girl became the highlight of a rather boring ABC’s 20/20. Everything stopped in my house as I watched this 7-year-old girl with wisdom beyond her years. Starting her activism at age 6, she is by far the youngest AIDS activist to date (Ryan White was 11 when he emerged on the scene). I was struck by both her ability to grasp the magnitude of her illness, as well as her willingness to challenge stigma and shame around this disease. While she was optimistic, she was not in denial. Hydeia, like many of us, had two choices: live until you die or stop living while you die. She chose to live!

Hydeia took life by the horn and never slowed down. Many of us watched with mixed emotions when she married her best friend. In retrospect, I wonder if some of the discomfort was because she was so young, or because her best friend was a little white boy. My critique of it all was informed by my own journey. I had married my ex-husband prematurely because of AIDS: That was her point too. I may not live to marry at an appropriate age, so I will do it now while I have a chance. Live! Live! Live! was the banner cry then. I was glued to the television as they told her story.

 The Early Year
Hydeia was born to a drug-addicted mother and abandoned at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas. She was then placed in Child Haven, a county-run children's facility. At six weeks old, she was placed in the home of Patricia and Loren Broadbent. They had served as foster parents for numerous children, including other "drug babies" like Hydeia. When Hydeia came to the Broadbents she weighed less than six pounds and was dressed in doll's clothes because she was so small. The Broadbents took care of Hydeia until it was time to take her to an adoption fair with the hope of placing her with a permanent family. Hydiea’s race became a hindrance to her adoption and finally, the Broadbents adopted Hydeia themselves. From the beginning, Hydeia had problems eating and often experienced crying fits, but the Broadbents did not find her problems unusual for a child born to a drug-addicted mother. As a baby, Hydeia was chronically ill, more so than any other foster child the Broadbents had experienced. She caught the chicken pox several times, had numerous respiratory infections and seemed to catch any cold with which she came into contact. She even became very sick from regular childhood immunizations. It was not until she was three years old that the Broadbents finally understood the cause of her chronic illnesses.

On New Year's Day in 1988, the Broadbents heard a news story about a child who was believed to be the first Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) baby in Las Vegas. They did not think much about the story until they learned four months later that this child shared a biological mother with Hydeia. Upon hearing the news, all of the Broadbents were tested, but only Hydeia was diagnosed as having the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. At that time, very little was known about AIDS in general and pediatric HIV/AIDS was almost unheard of. The Broadbents spoke with their family doctor as well as the Centers for Disease Control and were told that there were no treatments for Hydeia. The only AIDS drug at that time, AZT, was not yet available for children. The prognosis for Hydeia was that she might live to the age of five. Eventually she was referred to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where she began an HIV drug study. Hydeia’s drug therapy plan consisted of recombinant, CD4 and ddI. She was so sick all the time that the side effects of the medication seemed normal. Hydeia, said, “I didn’t know anything different. Normal to me was being sick.”

Hydeia's Activism

 Hydeia began speaking publicly about the disease while assisting her mother's activism, but eventually she overshadowed her own mother with her effective speaking style. Soon, Patricia Broadbent began letting Hydeia speak for herself. Her talents were recognized by a social worker at NIH who cast Hydeia in a pediatric AIDS educational video called "I Need a Friend." The video, Fearless, was seen by other AIDS activists who were moved by Hydeia's powerful message and her delivery. She soon began to participate in press conferences with Elizabeth Glaser, a co-founder of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. "She really has an inner sense of the impact of her disease, and she's able to relay that message to others," Dr. Philip Pizzo told People magazine. By age 12 she was appearing on national programs including Oprah, 20/20, Good Morning America and “A Conversation with Magic Johnson.” Over the next 10 years Hydeia became a notable featured speaker and guest panelist at some of America’s most respected educational institutions: Duke University, Clark Atlanta University, UCLA, USC and Howard University, as well as the Essence Music Festival and Bishop TD Jakes Aids Rally. In 2006, Hydeia was the keynote speaker at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada.

Her Life 

 Hydeia went to kindergarten like every typical girl her age. However, stigma and myths around HIV/AIDS took center stage. One day she sneezed and her teacher sprayed bleach on her desk and it hit Hydeia in the face. Hydeia explained to her teacher that the cartilage in her nose was basically gone and she often had sinus infections that caused a lot of mucus. When she sneezed, she said, “Boogies come out of my nose.” Later in the week, while her mother was doing the laundry Hydeia reacted to the smell of the bleach telling her mother that “bleach burns.” Patricia marched straight to school and asked the teacher to show her the finger that she used to spray the bleach. She grabbed her finger and told her, “If you ever spray bleach on my daughter again, I will tear this finger off!” After that incident, Hydeia was removed from school and began home schooling. She admits that home schooling was isolating affecting her socialization skills.

By the time she went to regular school again, for part of 7th and 8th grades, she was behind most kids her age academically. Her senior year, she was determined to be a normal teenage girl. She wanted to go to her prom. High School was difficult for her and admits that she was behind academically and socially. Hydeia had a difficult time adjusting. She didn't make friends easily and girls were catty with her. Ironically they saw her as a child star and treated her as if she believed that she was better than them. She started dating in her teen years and admits that she has had a rocky time of it. Her first boyfriend was great. But his parents were not thrilled about their son dating Hydeia. She says, “I think more than anything, they were just concerned about their son. Her dating and sex life took center stage. Should she or shouldn't she date. After her first boyfriend, she met the “Bad Boy.” The relationship was rocky almost from day one. Hydeia believe that the rumor mill and stigma made “him ashamed of me.” As with most “Bad Boy” relationships, it took time to make the final break. In between the break ups, there was much drama, including Hydeia breaking his car window. Go ahead, Laugh Out Loud. We have all been there or close to it. She is currently in a committed relationship with a guy she absolutely cares about. While she admits that she is not a virgin, she has taken a vow of abstinence until she gets married. “I tell people all the time, “Being HIV positive, don’t mean that his penis will fall off or that your vagina is sown up. Sex with a condom is safe.”

All Grown Up 

 At 25, Hydeia spends her time trying to spread the message about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention by promoting safe sex and knowing your HIV/AIDS status. She says, “People think because I was born with it my story does not apply to them. Well this same disease I am living with is the same disease you can get if you don’t practice safe sex or know your sex partner’s status, so use what I have been through as a warning of what you don’t want to go through!” She admits that her work is difficult. AIDS is no longer a sexy topic and speaking is her primary source of income. She and Patricia Broadbent have had a rocky mother daughter relationship. Hydeia has been taking care of herself since she was 17 years old. Like with most child stars, by the time she was on her own most of her money was gone. She says, ”I believe they didn't save my money from speaking because they didn't think I was going to live.” She attended college for two years and is planning on returning. While she will always be an AIDS activist, she is looking beyond the speaking circuit. She loves young people and is trying to find her niche. While her health is stable, like most people with advanced AIDS, she still struggles. This means a heavy pill load and chronic medical issues. She understands that she has a special gift, that God is using her to reach young people. She wants them to “take what I am going through as a warning of what not to go through.”

 Hydeia’s Credits

 Since 1996, Hydeia has been featured in some of today’s most prominent publications and television programs that include: Essence, Ebony, New York Times, POZ, Seventeen, Heart & Soul, Nickelodeon, MTV and BET. Hydeia has also been a part of some of America’s top talk radio programs including the Russ Parr Morning Show, Tom Joyner Morning Show and also was a part of one of the first satellite radio programs dealing with HIV/AIDS. Hydeia received the distinguished Essence Award and the American Red Cross Spirit Award. Ebony named Hydeia as one of the Most Influential African Americans 2008.


In honor of Hydeia Broadbent, I am proud to announce the Hydeia AIDS Awarness Bracelet.

I teamed with Hydeia to design this limited edition bracelet. Soon to be 26 years of age, Hydeia continues to travel world-wide educating about HIV/AIDS. In her honor, their are 52 limited edition bracelets handcrafted by Rae Lewis-Thornton. Twenty-six bracelets for the years God has blessed Hydeia with life and twenty-six for the years Hydeia has blessed us with her energy, compassion and wonderful spirit. Half of the proceeds from this bracelet will go directly to Hydeia and RLT Collection/Rae Lewis-Thornton will underwrite the cost.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Welcome to a Diva Living With AIDS Blog

Welcome to my blog, Diva Living With AIDS. As the first African-American woman with AIDS to tell my story on the cover of a national publication, I have spent the last sixteen years sharing my life, style, hopes, dreams and disappointments across the United States and even abroad. I never wanted to be a public person. I simply wanted to help bring about change.

As a young woman, I designed a wonderful plan for my life and by the time I was 23, I was half way there. As a national political organizer, with eyes on the White House, I served as the National Youth Director for Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's 1984 and 1988 Presidential Campaigns. I sat in strategy meetings with great minds such as, Alexis Herman, Secretary of Labor and Dorothy Height, the founder of the National Council of Negro Women. My plan was shaping up and I knew that this steady course would, sooner or later, guarantee me a position on a presidential campaign that was promised to win. And if I were smart enough and driven enough, which I was, this direction would guarantee me a position as, White House Staff.

During this same period as an up and coming political operative in Washington, HIV was also emerging on the scene. This mysterious virus literally scared the mess out of people. So much so, that once people discovered HIV was blood born, the number of blood donations dropped drastically. When I heard the nonsense, I thought it was crazy! People actually believed that they could contract HIV, if they donated blood. In my attempt to combat the madness I organized a blood drive in the winter of 1986. The previous year, they had just patented the HIV antibody test and all donated blood was now being tested for HIV.

A few months after the blood drive, I received a letter from the American Red Cross. I assumed it was a thank you and laid it on my counter. Later that evening, I nonchalantly opened the later telling me that something was wrong with the blood that I had donated. The next morning I went to the Red Cross and they told me I was HIV positive. I didn't know on that day, but my whole world changed right before my eyes. I was so naive that day, I completed a 12-hour workday. The years following my diagnosis, I peacefully coexisted with HIV. It didn't bother me and I didn't bother it. I wasn’t sick so I stayed my course. My plan was looking more successful each day. Little did I know, it was inevitable, I would make a clinical transition to AIDS.

AIDS disrupted my world and shattered my dreams into a million little pieces, but God picked up those pieces and reshaped the direction of my life. After living in shame and secret with HIV for almost seven years, I couldn't continue to carry a weight so heavy. I let go! I started to tell my friends and political family that I had AIDS. It felt like tons of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. I got a new walk and a new talk. Things were looking up, but AIDS was unkind and it started to ravage my body and spirit. I went from 3 pills a day to 23 pills. I went from a size 12 to a size 6 in six months. I started to have back-to-back yeast infections and 21-day menstrual cycles. I became clinically depressed, and cried all day, every day. Things were looking gloomy, but God’s plan never fails. Within a year I started speaking locally about my life living with AIDS and six months after that, Susan Taylor asked me to grace the cover of Essence Magazine in a cover story Facing AIDS.

That Essence article placed me on a course of no return and pushed me into the national arena, as one of the most visible African-American AIDS activist in the United States. I was never much of a public speaker, but I had lots to say. I earned the reputation of being raw, candid, forthright and honest. The fact that I met none of the stereotypes of people living with HIV was appealing to both the masses and the media. I used that fact to affectively to challenge stereotypes and myths surrounding HIV/AIDS.

AIDS has been the catalyst that opened doors and drew people to me. This Blog is an extension of who I am and what I stand for. It is just another vehicle to give voice to my ministry.

A Diva Living With AIDS blog will be true to the essence of my work and life as a woman. I will educate and inform through my eyes and life. Like in the past, I will address a gamut of issues including: HIV/AIDS, childhood sexual abuse, dating, overall health, politics, and of course beauty, Diva style. I am not limiting myself to one genre; the sky is the limit. I made a promise sixteen years ago that I would be a voice for the voiceless, face for the faceless, bring hope to the hopeless and tear down barriers and stand with DIGNITY, as a Woman living with AIDS. This Blog is another way for me to keep this promise. I am not a professional writer, just a Diva Living with AIDS and having her say.

So SUBSCRIBE, leave comments, and enjoy.
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