HIV activist William Brawner speaks out.
Already 90 minutes late, William Brawner pumps the gas pedal of the rental van, jumps the curb and pulls up next to the 10 teenagers waiting in front of a half-abandoned warehouse on East Allegheny Ave., home to HAVEN, the drop-in center for HIV-positive kids.
The kids cram into the white van and let him have it.
"Will, we love you and all but it's 9 o'clock," one says as the others groan in agreement. Brawner, who opened HAVEN last January, laughs then turns up the radio and pulls away in the direction of I-95 and Washington, D.C., where in a few hours he'll introduce Magic Johnson at an event aimed to spark talk about the plague so many have forgotten.
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1979, William Brawner was accidentally burned from the waist down in hot bath water as an infant. He was rushed to Children's National Medical Center where skin tissue was grafted onto his legs and blood transfused into his tiny body, replacing the blood he'd lost in surgery.
His mother, having just graduated from Howard University, moved him to her family's home at 49th and Haverford. His grandmother and great-grandmother helped raise him while his mother studied for a master's degree from Cheyney University before going on to teach at Temple.
In the tough West Philly neighborhood, the Brawner family watched corner drug deals and stepped over crack vials on their doorstep. But the family was admired and well-known in the neighborhood.
Then, when Brawner was three, his mother received a call from Children's National Medical Center. A longtime blood donor had died of complications from what we now know as AIDS. The donor's blood had been used in Brawner's surgery.
More than a few voices caution that in the decade-plus since effective antiretroviral meds have transformed HIV infection from a death sentence into a chronic but manageable infection, too many people have lost their fear of the virus.