Emmy-winning HIV/AIDS activist, author, minister, political organizer, motivational speaker, life coach, jewelry designer and social media figure Rae Clara Lewis-Thornton's recently released book, Unprotected: A Memoir, is already a pre-release best-seller at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
"For three days, we ranked number 35 at Barnes & Noble and they promoted this on their website," said Lewis-Thornton. "For 10 days, we have been number one in new releases in the AIDS category on Amazon. Right now, I am number eight for all books in the AIDS category on Amazon. I am 197 in Black and African-American biographies on Amazon as well."
The self-published book chronicles Lewis-Thornton's life from her earliest years on Chicago's South Side to the current day. She writes about her role working as a political organizer for Harold Washington's 1983 Chicago mayoral campaign, Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns, and Carol Moseley Braun's 1992 senatorial campaign; working for Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition and obtaining the support the entire Jackson family gave her.
She also discusses being involved in Barack Obama's Project Vote campaign; disclosing her now undetectable AIDS status to the world on the cover of Essence Magazine and subsequent Emmy-award winning CBS-2 Chicago series, Living with AIDS; and much, much more.
"My childhood/teen years were harrowingyet I persevered," Lewis-Thornton told Windy City Times.
Lewis-Thornton warned, "There are topics of childhood verbal, physical, sexual and emotional abuse so my advice is for readers is to take their time. If you have experienced any of the trauma I faced, know that I do not hold anything back."
"I chose the word 'unprotected' for my memoir because I fundamentally wanted people to see how unprotected and violated I was a child and how it affected my life," said Lewis-Thornton. "No one protected me. Everybody who should have loved me and nurtured me violated me instead. There are so many children out there in this world in disarray right now because they were failed by the adults in their homes. Some of that has to do with generational trauma. If we as a society can stop and recognize that this trauma exists and address it then we would become healthier people."
The through-line of the book is Lewis-Thornton surviving those multiple traumas and what that does to a child where an abnormal chaotic existence becomes normal and how that carries into their adulthood. She said that people primarily know her as an HIV/AIDS activist but most do not know her full story, which is why she wrote this memoir. During her speaking engagements with young people there have been times when there would be more questions about her childhood than about AIDS.
"I wanted people to take my memoir and look at my journey to see what trauma looks like which for me was fight or flight, confusion and contradictions that adults brought to me every day," said Lewis-Thornton. "I was kept so unbalanced. It is really unprecedented that I am drug and alcohol-free. Sometimes those of us with HIV cannot process that diagnosis because we come to the table with so much other stuff that has not been dealt with.
"We spend a lot of time talking about HIV prevention but we spend very little time talking about how that person got to HIV. Not the particular sex or drug use that got them to HIV. What was it about their life that made them more at risk and what we find with the Adverse Childhood Experience Study is that people with HIV have much higher scores out of ten questions (she is 8 out of 10) than the rest of the American population. When we look at that adult person with HIV and examine their childhood we can see the trajectory to that HIV positive diagnosis. I say often that the little girl with low self-esteem grew up to be the woman with low self-esteem."
Lewis-Thornton spends many pages writing about how important education has been in her life, especially her time in Evanston and later at Northeastern University where she received her bachelor's degree. She said that the message she wants to convey to readers is that "everyone is capable of an education. No one would have guessed that I was able to do what I did as a student. I love school but it was so hard for me because I had no support. It took going back as many times as I did and learning more about myself to really understand how I learn and that is how I succeeded in getting my college degrees."
In terms of the hardest thing for her to write, Lewis-Thornton cites the now late Max Robinson's story and how he intersected with her life because of his revered status among African-Americans. She said it was very hard to let that story go after holding it in for 38 years but once she was done writing "it was like wow my soul has been waiting for this moment."
As for the easiest part of writing the book, it was chronicling her visits and conversations with her beloved now late Aunt Lula Mae.
"To put her on paper was amazing," said Lewis-Thornton. "She was a little fireball."
Currently, Lewis-Thornton is in the process of starting a doctorate in ministry program at Methodist Theological Seminary in Ohio.
"With this doctorate, I want to work through the biblical and theological response to how the church should be addressing trauma," said Lewis-Thornton. "My ministry is a public one, not one that can be found at a brick and mortar location."
Lewis-Thornton will also be reviving her jewelry and knitted wear collection to sell on her website in the coming months.
"One day, I want to open a wellness center for women using crafting to help them with their stress, anxiety and trauma," said Lewis-Thornton. "I am going to be 60 so I am reexamining my life. I am not stopping yet."
When asked what Lewis-Thornton hopes people take away from reading her book she said "no matter what you face in life there is always hope and a light at the end of the tunnel."
As for the current political situation, Lewis-Thornton calls this a "really scary time" for people who have spent their lives working on social justice issues.
"Just to even think that the issues I have worked so very hard for are being overturned right now is really disheartening," said Lewis-Thornton. "I was born in Buffalo, New York and in the book I talk about how Dorje told me in 1962 the police chief busted their door down and put a gun to my father's head and told him to get out of town with his [n-word] baby and that was me. Here we are today with a young white man being indoctrinated into the same hate that existed when I was born that resulted in the murder of 10 people at that grocery store. We cannot give up hope. Sometimes when we are overwhelmed apathy sets in and we cannot stop fighting for what we believe in. We cannot surrender it all to these right-wing fascists."
Lewis-Thornton will be hosting a tea party "Celebrating 60 Years of Life, 40 Years of Advocacy" to celebrate her book release May 21 from 3:00 to 5:30p.m. at Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60613.
Visit Lewis-Thornton's tea party and book discussion-signing eventbrite page to RSVP for this free event.
For more on Lewis-Thorton's life, see www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/AIDS-Rae-Lewis-Thornton-Talking-with-an-AIDS-diva-/31633.html, www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/AIDS-diva-Lewis-Thornton-on-her-life-and-activismWORLD-AIDS-DAY-2013/45283.html and www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/STILL-HERE-Long-term-HIV-AIDS-survivors-in-Chicago-reflect-on-their-experiences/70070.html .
See raelewisthornton.com .