More Marvelyn

Here are the next two articles on HIV/AIDS activist Marvelyn Brown’s visit from students in my Intro to Journalism class. Krisanya Johnson wrote the first piece. She is a 22-year-old MCA major who works at Verizon Wireless and lives in the Bronx. After CCNY, she plans to continue to graduate school then get a job in some area of the media-communications field.

The other one is written by Elizabeth Tenzyk. She’s a 20-year-old transfer student from Long Island. Down the road, she’d like to be a music journalist.

Marvelyn Brown: Still Standing by Krisanya Johnson


Last month, renowned AIDS activist and author of the book “The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive,” Marvelyn Brown, held a press conference for a journalism class at The City College of New York. The 26-year-old entrepreneur of Marvelous Connections showed up with her favorite drink, Pepsi, in hand.

After being introduced by our professor, Linda Villarosa, Brown walked up to the front of the class with a beautiful smile on her face. “Y’all read the book? So I really don’t have to talk,” she said with a strong southern accent while the entire class laughed.

She began to share her story about the day she found out she was HIV positive, July 17, 2003. “After being sick in the hospital for two and a half weeks with the doctors not knowing what’s wrong with me, I was given multiple tests and all of them kept coming back negative,” said Brown.

By this time her mother had already start planning her funeral because she thought her daughter was about to die. Brown marks it as a day that changed the course of her entire life. When Brown was asked if the person that infected her knew his status she replied, “He swears he didn’t know, but I know for a fact I got it from him.”

She explained how the stigma that accompanies the disease leads people to assume that HIV is a disease contracted through promiscuity. “People act as if you go to this person to get the H, this person to get the I and this person to get the V,” Brown said. This kind of stigma, she said, is the most difficult aspect of living with the disease. “The stigma contributes to the silence and the ignorance that surrounds this virus,” Brown said. “Even though I take medications that I get heavy side effects from, I would say the stigma is a lot more hurtful and painful than that medication could ever be.”

Brown is currently single but made it very clear that she doesn’t have a problem finding a man. She plans to have a child and get married, but her biggest issue is trust. Brown looks at her status not a curse, but a blessing and says that God has a plan for her. Even though she has accomplished a lot of things, she believes that her work is still not done.

“HIV is no walk in the park; it is hard as I don’t know, it is harder everyday,” she says with a smile on her face, “ But I’ve been able to help and inspire so many other people that it really outweighs not having HIV. It really really does.”

Marvelyn Brown Comes to City College to Speak to Journalism Students by Elizabeth Tenzyk

It was Thursday morning September 23, when the marvelous Marvelyn Brown, 26, walked into a classroom full of journalism students at the City College of New York in Harlem. She came to speak about life with HIV and her journey to self love and acceptance.

As Brown told her story with confidence it was hard to believe she was faced with such a harsh reality at such a young age.  It began with the day she found out she had HIV.  “I wanted someone to say it’s okay, you’re gonna be okay,” Brown said.

Unfortunately, Brown had never had the proper education about sex, or the diseases that could come with it.  The only form of sex education she received from her tough loving mother was not to get pregnant.  That is why the message she tries to send is to get tested, to get educated and to be responsible.

Shortly after being diagnosed with HIV, Brown almost got into a fatal car crash.  “ I realized I almost died and it had nothing to do with HIV,” Brown explained.  That is the moment when she realized anything could happen at any time and she wanted to be the one to tell her story.  “I realized the power in my own story,” she said.

During a lecture at a college in Tennessee  a student hearing her story told Brown that she was her hero, and she admired her courage.  This was a life changing moment for both of them.  “How could she view me in a way I don’t view myself?” Brown asked herself.  She knew she needed to find a way to love and accept herself, something she never did even before being diagnosed with HIV.  Brown says she took a very mature approach on the whole situation.  She admits that she doesn’t blame the man who infected her, the guy she believed to be her “Prince Charming,” her “Knight in Shining Armor.”  That is where the part about being responsible comes in.  “The only thing stopping me from being positive is me loving myself,” said Brown.

She knew if on that night she should have loved herself first instead of craving the love of another so much she would not have HIV.  However, she turned something that could have been negative into a positive. “It really put me on the path I need to be in life,” Brown explained.

Nowadays Brown spends her time travelling and telling her story to educate others.  She also runs her own company called Marvelous Connections where she fights ignorance with education.  Sometimes people ridicule her saying that she is glamourizing HIV.  Instead of letting these opinions get to her she realizes how confused they are.  Her response is simply, “Yes I am glamorous, HIV is not.”

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Covering Marvelous Marvelyn Brown

Last month, Marvelyn Brown held a press conference in Shepard Hall for students in my Intro to Journalism class.Marvelyn (that’s her in the photos), an HIV/AIDS activist and author of the book, The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive, discussed her life and work. After, she answered dozens of intimate questions about how she contracted HIV and how she lives with it. She also signed copies of her book. Based on her lively, no-holds barred lecture, I assigned students to write a news story about the visit.

Here is the first of several of the best articles. Simone Tharkur, who is double majoring in English and MCA and also plays on the women’s basketball team, wrote the story below. (Let’s hope she finds time to minor in journalism!)

Marvelyn Brown Educates City College on HIV/AIDS by Simone Tharkur

Marvelyn Brown, author of The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive, proves ignorance isn’t always bliss with the testimony of her life, before and after contracting HIV. Last Thursday, the international AIDS activist spoke at City College about becoming infected in 2003. Brown, 26, is the CEO and independent consultant for Marvelous Connections and works to raise HIV/AIDS awareness throughout the world.

At 19, Brown met “Prince Charming” and immediately knew he was the one. “We were in love,” she recalled, describing the night that changed her life forever. “He told me he didn’t have a condom, and I thought ‘what’s the worst that could happen after this night, pregnancy?’ We continued to have sex without a condom.” When she contracted HIV from her “Prince Charming,” she says it just didn’t make sense to her. “He was perfect,” she says.

The Tennessee native was just as uneducated about HIV as her community was. “Some people thought you slept with this guy and got the H, slept with this guy and got the I, slept with this guy and got the V and that’s how a person contracts HIV, but that’s not how it works,” Brown says. “I contracted the H, the I, and the V from one guy.”

She believes her life would be different if formally educated on the risks of unprotected sex. “My sex education with my mom started and stopped with ‘don’t get pregnant.’ That was my sex education, that’s all I remembered.” Brown later added “I know how ignorance can play a part of being infected with HIV,” and “the only thing that would’ve stopped me from being [HIV] positive is if I loved myself enough to protect myself.”

Brown speaks at many colleges and universities educating youth through her story. She declares, “the work that I do, I’ve dedicated my life to” and promises to continue being actively involved with HIV education.  She believes “you, the individual, have your own responsibility” and “the earlier you know the faster you can take control of your body.”

Africa Without Tears

School at City College began for me on Thursday August 31. But I missed my first two classes, Reporting & Writing and Introduction to Journalism. I was in Ethiopia on a media study trip to look at maternal health in this beautiful, but desperately poor country. As in many developing countries, too many women die having children. On assignment for Ms. Magazine, I am writing an article about an army of 30,000 rural women, trained as health care workers, who are teaching women in villages no bigger than a fingersnap how to take care of themselves and have healthy babies.

That article will appear in the magazine’s print edition–in Winter 2011. Meantime, read my article about a community garden in an area several outside of Ethiopia’s capital city. It’s run by vulnerable children and orphans who lost their parents to AIDS.