She became a celebrity when her story was first told in Essence Magazine 15 years ago. After donating her blood, Chicagoan Rae Lewis Thornton, who was then 23 years old, learned she was HIV positive. Twenty-three years later, she has survived against the odds.
"I have full blown AIDS. I have what we consider advanced HIV ...advanced AIDS. I have taken all the medications there is so the protocols I take are very heavy. I'm on a 15 pills a day. I still have chronic fatigue, but I woke up this morning," said Thornton.
Once national news director for the Rev. Jessie Jackson's two presidential campaigns, she is frequently found at Enbeadia, located at 653 West Armitage, where she designs jewelry. It's an activity that began when she started making HIV awareness bracelets.
"I wanted to make aids awareness pretty," said Thornton. "What started as simply an AIDS awareness bracelet has become a full line of bracelets for women. "
In 2000, Thornton became a licensed Baptist minister. Three years ago, she earned a master of divinity degree from the McCormick Theological Seminary.
For the past 15 years, Thornton has traveled the country as a motivational speaker sharing her life story at colleges and universities and with younger people. She is also working on a PhD and book.
"I'm proud of everything I've done. I've shown people you can live with dignity with HIV. You don't have to surrender to the darkness of the disease. I've gotten a masters of divinity degree. I'm working on my PhD and I'm launching a line of bracelets. Not bad for a little poor black girl who came from Englewood," said Thornton.