“Anything that I can do to try to bring education or awareness to the community, I’m really down for it.”
Martinez Brown is a soldier. Though he had to watch his dream of becoming an air traffic controller crumble when his Air Force physical revealed he was HIV-positive at the age of 18, today, at 24, Brown serves as a “soldier in the war against injustice.”
The road to active duty was not without its challenges, however. A Cass Technical High School graduate with a 3.6 grade point average, HIV was not one of Brown’s future plans. Nevertheless, it was his reality. After fighting his way out of a painful depression, Brown found support at the Horizons Project. A year or two down the line he was doing so well that he was hired to work as a peer educator for the program.
It didn’t take long for Brown to make an impact. Soon he was sitting on panels and attending conferences, telling his story, softly at first but with a voice that grew stronger and surer with each telling. He began to travel, and while sitting on a panel at a Centers for Disease Control-sponsored conference in Jacksonville, Fla., he caught the eye of Phil Wilson from the African American AIDS Policy and Training Institute. Wilson asked Brown to travel with him to Barcelona for the 14th International AIDS Conference, where Brown would capture a great deal of attention. But when USA Today asked him for an interview, Brown was unsure.
“I remember having to make the decision to actually talk to the press, to talk to USA Today about my status, knowing that this is going to be something that everybody at home will be able to access and read and people who didn’t know my status would be able to find out my status just by picking up the paper,” said Brown. “That was scary to me in the beginning. But I felt that this was something that people needed to hear. There were people who were in the same situation as me in high school who thought that you had to be a certain way, or do certain things, to get HIV and that wasn’t necessarily the case for me. So I know that if they heard that message it would probably get to them, and if not all of them at least one.”
Today, Brown still does work for the CDC, speaking on HIV and AIDS at historically black universities. He’s also a core leadership trainer for AIDS Alliance in Washington, D.C., and has been promoted to the role of patient advocate at the Horizons Project.
“This is a wonderful program,” he said. “The director, Dr. Kathryn Wright, is like a mother to me. She’s always been there for me and provided a great deal of support, along with all of the rest of my coworkers and colleagues, so the team, itself, was something that made me want to stay.”
But Brown, who plans to return to Wayne State University to study secondary education, doesn’t plan on staying forever.
“No, I’m not gonna stop here,” Brown said. “This is something that has really enriched me, and I really get a lot of joy out of doing this, but I don’t really see it as something that I want to do as my career. I can use this to teach a lot of young people on a bigger scale if I do this in a school setting.”
In the meantime, there’s no denying that Brown is making a difference. He was featured recently on a WJBK – Fox 2 news broadcast speaking about HIV-infected teenagers, and he’s more visible than ever.
“It’s just being out here, being a soldier of this community,” said Brown. “It’s something that really makes me feel good. Anything that I can do to try to bring education or awareness to the community, I’m really down for it, especially when it comes to the gay community. I’m very passionate about being visible, about standing up for our rights, whatever it calls for, I’m out there at the school board meetings and at the town hall meetings and I’m speaking up and I just hope that a lot of people jump on that and start to do those things, stand up and speak out about injustice. That’s just my passion.”