STROUDSBURG, Pa. -- More than 1 million people in the U.S. are living with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. One part of the population hit especially hard hit is the African American community.
LaJoyce Brookshire was married to a man she thought was her very own Prince Charming. But then discovered a veiled side of him. He knew he had AIDS but kept this deadly secret from her until his body betrayed him.
The frightening statistics of HIV/AIDS infections in this country only prove that there are too many secrets in too many relationships. Many of them are harbored by families living in fear, ignorance, and denial.
With the statistics raging even higher for African American women, Brookshire boldly shares her truth after more than 10 years of silence.
Time to Stop Lying
Standing on her incredible faith, she says it's time to stop lying, start telling the truth, and begin to live life with the understanding that only the truth will make you free.
CBN News recently spoke with Brookshire in Stroudsburg, Pa., to capture her amazing story.
Brookshire is no stranger to success. She is one of the first African-American women to novelize a major motion picture. She authored Soul Food, the novel of the hit movie after the film's box office success.
She has worked with some of the biggest names in music as publicity director for Artista Records.
"I've had the opportunity to work with Miss Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, Whitney Houston, Sean Diddy Combs," Brookshire said.
Her Dream Became a Nightmare
In 1990, at the height of her career, Brookshire she met and married the man of her dreams. It was a dream that quickly turned into a nightmare with a shocking discovery.
"My husband of two years was full blown AIDS, had full blown AIDS," she said.
Brookshire couldn't help but wonder about her own health.
"My first thought was for them to take my blood," she told CBN News.
She relied on her childhood faith to get her through.
"It was as if God had said to me, 'Daughter go, thy faith has made thee whole, you are free from all your diseases.'" she said. "I just knew that I knew I was negative."
Medical tests proved Brookshire right. Miraculously, she was HIV and AIDS negative.
"I'm negative, hallelujah, it's only by the grace of God that I am negative," she testified.
Every 9 1/2 Minutes...
Brookshire is one of the few happy endings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 9 1/2 minutes, someone in America is diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
In 2007, 40 percent of those cases were black women. Now, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women between the ages of 25 and 34.
One reason behind this can be traced to behavior known in the African American community as living on the Down Low or "DL."
The term is used to describe a man in a heterosexual relationship who secretly sleeps with men. It is an issue that has many outraged.
"It's enraging, a tragic thing to think that someone that you love has your best interest at heart and they really don't," Kristie Puckett of Charlotte, N.C., said. "They're just selfish in thinking of themselves and their pleasure."
"You don't know who you're messing with or who you're talking to nowadays. I'm sure half the time, most of the people don't come up front about the issue," said Norman Hutchens of Charlotte, N.C.
And what may be even scarier is that these men are found in all segments of the population, not just the African American community.
The Church Response to Down Low
Pastor Michael Stevens of University City Church in Charlotte, N.C., has written specifically about this in his book called, Straight Up: The Church's Official Response to the Epidemic of Down Low Living.
He explained just how widespread the problem is.
"It's in corporate America, it's in government, it's in sports. At the end of the day, it's the African American woman, the wife, the fiance, the girlfriend who's getting the short end of the stick, totally unsuspecting and unfortunately she finds out many times the most painful way to find out, HIV AIDS," Stevens explained.
Watch more of Charlene Israel's interview with Pastor Stevens on the truth about Down Low Living, here.
"There's so many men in the church that I pastor and in churches around America that are struggling with this," he added. "You've got a third of African American men who are actually on the 'Down Low.' They consider themselves, although they sleep with other men, they still consider themselves heterosexual. That's the problem."
Pastor Stevens stressed that the church must take a stronger role in addressing the struggle that some men have with homosexuality.
"My fear is now we are creating what they would call a gay friendly, homosexual user-friendly church where we are all accepted, where we are all God's children, come on in get the tithes and offerings up, the popularity up," he said.
Dr. Alveda King, niece of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. agrees that the church needs to help solve the problem by no longer covering it up.
Don't Cover Up the Sin
"Say the organist is gay and he's dying of AIDS, HIV, so he plays the organ louder and the people jump up and dance louder so they don't hear the pain of the sickness of the HIV. So you cover up the sin in the church with the theatrics and the music and all of that," she explained.
But Pastor Stevens said there is hope for men who want out of the "Down Low" lifestyle.
"I know men today who struggled for years with homosexuality, men who struggle and they publicly struggled, it was no secret but God saved them, delivered them, healed them," he said. "Today, they're walking in wholeness and healing."
Brookshire said she found out two years after her husband died that he knew he was HIV positive when he married her. She also found out that he was living on the "Down Low."
God's Saving Grace
Today, she is an ordained minister, a doctor of naturopathy, and a master herbalist. She resides in the Poconos with her husband, childhood sweetheart, Gus, and daughter, Brooke, and dogs Phoenix and Lexi.
She is still HIV-free and travels the country speaking out about HIV and AIDS awareness.
She candidly shares her story in her book called, Faith Under Fire: Betrayed by a Thing Called Love.
Most of all, she shares about God's saving grace.
"This could have devastated me for the rest of my entire life, but what it did was it increased my faith and helped to make me stronger," she said. "I could only thank God for this experience. I wouldn't take back one day of it. Lord, you must have an incredible assignment for me."
*Originally aired Oct. 29, 2009