Trying to keep sex education resources up to date in the Teen Area is very important to me, and this young woman’s story is the perfect example of why teens need to be educated. Marvelyn Brown was diagnosed with HIV when she was only 19 years old. NINETEEN! She practiced safe sex more often than not because she didn’t want to become pregnant, but she still engaged in unprotected sex at times, and one of those times led her to become infected with HIV. Marvelyn credits her risky behavior to her lack of education and awareness where STIs/STDs were concerned, so she has made it her mission to educate young people about HIV and AIDS . She urges people, “Get tested, get educated, and be responsible.” It was very inspiring to read about her transition from a scared and uneducated HIV patient to a courageous HIV/AIDS activist and educator.
To be completely honest, though, I was a little taken aback by a couple of things. First was her narcissism and overall obsession with her looks. While I am happy to hear about a young woman who has self confidence and who takes pride in her appearance, I didn’t think it was appropriate for her to continually go on about her looks in a book that was supposed to focus on the importance of educating people about HIV and AIDS. When she split hairs about who was cast to play a character based on her in a few episodes of UPN’s “Half & Half,” it seemed that she didn’t appreciate the significance of that show’s introduction of a character who had been diagnosed with HIV. Instead of complaining that they cast Michelle Williams instead of Beyoncé, she should have been thrilled that her efforts had exposed some more people to the reality of HIV and AIDS.
The other thing that I found strange was her insistence that most people do not know the truth about HIV and AIDS transmission. I found it very hard to believe, for example, Marvelyn’s claims that the TV executives she met with “knew no more than the folks back home … but they were willing to be educated.” I understand that New York State is a relatively progressive place to live, but I recall learning about HIV and AIDS as early as 6th grade (1991), so I find it a bit difficult to believe that the rest of the country is more than 10 years behind on the learning curve. Do I believe that young people who live in impoverished areas of the south where they receive “abstinence only” sex education know less than they should about protecting themselves from HIV, AIDS, and other STIs/STDs? Of course I do! Do I believe that TV executives in Hollywood, in the mid 2000s, didn’t understand how HIV and AIDS are transmitted? Not so much.
Many people in the United States are trapped in the delusion that “it can’t happen” to them — much like smokers who refuse to accept that they could end up with lung cancer, despite the mounds of evidence to the contrary — and then there are those who just don’t know how to protect themselves. But whether the problem is ignorance of HIV/AIDS and the methods of transmission or an unwillingness to accept their own chances of contracting HIV/AIDS, too many people (young and old) are engaging in behaviors that put them at risk. Hopefully, Marvelyn Brown’s work — including this book — will help to educate more people about the realities of HIV/AIDS transmission and the need to get tested if there is any chance they might have been infected.
For more information about Marvelyn Brown and her work, go to http://www.marvelynbrown.com/.