I first met Stephanie nearly 5 years ago and was simply in awe of her nobility. She is one of the sweetest young ladies I've met, however her presence is more powerful and more regally humbling than many her age. The fact that she is HIV positive is simply a by product of who she is. Stephanie is a creative being commited to conscious awarensss and community building.
As an activist against HIV/AIDS, twenty nine year old Stephanie Janelle Brown, has faced many obstacles in life but still has a heart to share her own experience of being diagnosed with the virus at the young age of nineteen and being a student in college at Fayetteville State University. She hopes that others will not make the same mistake in trusting someone with their life before loving themselves first.
Staying true to her calling and passion, Stephanie walked away from her post college career and fully stepped into being a HIV/AIDS speaker and educator. Answering the call has afforded her to have a special documentary recorded and aired on MTV, be a part of Empowered, a global campaign, alongside mega R&B artist and HIV advocate, Alicia Keys, and she has participated in numerous panel discussions, including being a keynote speaker at the United States Conference on AIDS 2013.
Stephanie is an Activist. Poet. Motivator. Sister. Daughter and EmpowHERed Woman.
Here's a bit of her story she's shared with me.
Schan: As an artist and educator, what is your mission and how did that mission turn into a movement?
Stephanie: As an artist and educator, my mission is to help others how I've helped myself. I've experienced pain and depression and got out of it and want others to be capable of doing it for themselves as well. I want to help others fall in love with themselves and life and live whole. That process its self is the movement. Collectively we can do that with and for each other, however we must first learn to do it for ourselves. I had to remind myself why I wanted to educate and speak and that’s what got me out of the bed. Setting obtainable goals and reaching them kept me encouraged and hopeful.
Schan: You are truly a woman who is transparent as well as one who has become strengthened through a strong will. My hats off to you. Now, the word passion…What does that mean to you? How to do you use passion to enrich the lives of others?
Stephanie: To me passion is what makes the real you come out. It’s what strikes a nerve to research and learn more about whatever intrigues you in life. It's a part of your mission and you’re excited to share it with others. That’s when you know it’s a passion. It’s an emotion that resembles excitement and intensity; it means that much to you, whatever it may be. My passion is education and empowerment and I know it is because I feel my light shine brighter when I’m in those moments of helping others.
Schan: As a woman who is HIV positive, you know first hand some of the obstacles that have to be overcome and barriers that have to be broken with living with the dis-ease. When you hear that women and girls are a demographic being infected at high rates, how does that make you feel and what do you say to them?
Stephanie: I look at HIV/AIDS so much differently now, I have confidence in knowing that we will make it out of this. We have the power to overcome, however it FIRST starts with self. Secondly, we need to come together more often. It took women around me to help get to this place of peace. The same thing should be done for all of us to heal properly. Not just from HIV/AIDS but from all dis-ease that often infects and affects our commUNITY. We can’t give up; no woman should give up especially on themselves.
Schan: There is definitely strength in numbers including the number 1 (yourself) added to whoever else is in your village. From day to day you do a lot. What keepks you motivated and Beautifully Inspired?
Stephanie: What keeps me inspired is learning and applying life lessons, helping others through my mission, and simply just doing ALL the things that I love to do. I always say “find your joy and keep it” meaning find your joy in EVERYTHING, EVERY SITUATION in life because it makes it so much easier. There are little joys and there are big ones but I find the most inspiring BEAUTIFUL moments in the little ones that make you appreciate life a little more.
Schan: Beautifully stated indeed. If you could think of ONE word that describes you, what would it be and why?
Stephanie: One word that definitely describes me is resilient. Its my favorite word to use for myself because it is me to the T. As much as I’ve been through and experienced from different people, some I knew, some I didn’t, I still manage to not settle. I take it all with much grace and still have the ability to love. I learn quickly by being observant and practicing patience with myself. Being told I was HIV+ was a rebirth that [I have accepted] and would not reverse it. I knew the day after I found out my test results that I wasn’t going any where; my life wouldn’t be threatened by the [virus]. I knew I’d make it out and I did just that. My spirit is far from being easily broken. It's actually quite stubborn! (Lol).
Schan: Resilient is one of my favorite words as well! (Lol) About 10 years ago, I was in church and one of the ministers actually "renamed" me that. I'm honored to share it with you! At 29 years old, what is your greatest life lesson?
Stephanie: My greatest life lesson is that what you put in, is what comes out. That speaks on how we think about ourselves, how we talk about ourselves, how we treat ourselves, what we eat, drink, watch, read, whatever we consume is what is going to be reflected from us. Be wise about what you let in your system and be conscious about what comes out.
Schan: That's an awesome life lesson! It's definitely a strong reminder for us all to become more aware of what we consume. What advice would you give readers in stepping out in faith and following their dreams no matter what comes their way in life?
Stephanie: When you are setting a goal and/or have a dream, don’t go in “hoping” for everything to work out. Go in “knowing” that everything will work out. If there is a change in plans, go with the change accordingly. Never freak out. Everything happens for a reason. Obstacles will pop up to teach us more. Time is never wrong.
Schan: Amen, Sista! What are your final thoughts on affirming your NOW as well as your future?
Stephanie: I did not think I would see six months later after my diagnosis before getting involved in my passion for HIV education; let alone nine years later to tell an amazing story about my continuing survival. This virus taught me a lot about myself and it helped me to develop more into the woman I am today. I will be loved by a man, there’s no doubt in that. I will have children and I plan to have an empire. I am not my disbeliefs anymore. I no longer live in fear. I am love, I am hope. I am grace. I am a force. I am standing. I am because I choose to be. I am Stephanie J. Brown but please just call me Steph.
And there you have it. I am so proud of this young lady and all that she has and will accomplish. Her organization, M.A.D.U. [Minds Against Destruction Using Unity] is a movement to eliminate destruction within the mind and within the comm[unity]. It serves as an agent acting against health disparties and illnesses, helping to eliminate HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination, social issues, inequality, poverty, homelessness, gangs, violence, and all destruction that affects growth and progress. M.A.D.U.. expresses activism through art, clothing and actively speaking to all age groups, of all races. Through M.A.D.U., Steph's hope is that silence will be broken, voices will be heard and our minds will unite.
To learn more about Steph and her project, please click HERE to be inspired and motivated to move!