HIV activist William Brawner speaks out.
"The space is 2,300 square feet," he says, walking through the warehouse with a visitor. "We could play half-court basketball here."
On a late summer day the warehouse still looked uninhabited, save for the contractors smoking cigarettes out front.
Walking up the stairwell, the heat is stifling. Fans noisily attempt to cool the vast space and high ceilings. Down the hall Diddy blasts from the other side of an open door.
At 1 p.m., the room is empty except for HAVEN's employees--one part-timer and an intern. Drop-in hours are short: from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. When someone comes through the door, Brawner loudly proclaims their arrival by name.
Today, though, Brawner is late.
Hustling through the door, messenger bag in tow, he says he's finally ready to talk. "Just one call," he says.
Behind his desk sits a community service award from the city and a plaque from The Philadelphia Tribune proclaiming him one of "10 People Under 40 to Watch."
He recently received a grant to buy some wheels, and on the phone he asks the car dealer if the van in question is new or used.
Brawner is planning trips. Maybe he'll go to D.C. again, down I-95, the route he and his old college buddy would sometimes take on their way back to Howard from a night of trouble.
Sitting sternly behind his desk, his voice rises as he addresses the mistakes in his past and what fuels him to continue telling his story.
"I'm tired of being quiet," he says.
Brian James Kirk is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia.
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.
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