As far as I know, Rae Lewis Thornton has never worn her hair in a natural style. I’m honestly not sure, we’ve never discussed it. But despite our difference in hairstyles, Rae was a no brainer when it came time for me to bring back Afrobella of the Month. Because it isn’t about how she wears her hair, it’s about how she lives her life.

Rae Lewis Thornton lives her life out loud. As a woman — no, a DIVA living with AIDS for the past 24 years, she has learned how to speak her truth to its most powerful effect, how to maintain her dignity and walk in beauty despite the pain she may be feeling inside. She imparts wisdom and warmth wherever she goes, despite what she is going through. And as her signature statement “for real, for real” would indicate, Rae keeps it 100. And I love that about her.

In her astonishingly honest blog, Rae shares details of her life with this disease that truly illustrate the reality of AIDS. Her post My Worst Nightmare discusses dealing with Lipodystrophy, abnormal fat accumulation. In Miss Chanel parts one and two, she talks about another kind of worst nightmare. The nightmare of losing control of your bodily functions in public.

Rae first shared that story with me over a delicious Thai lunch at Tamarind here in Chicago, and seeing her demeanor as she relayed the dismaying details…watching the emotions play across the beautiful canvas of her face, brought a lump to my throat. But Rae remained strong and earnest, and that in turn inspired me. If she could remain so calm and eloquent while recounting the shame of such an experience…who was I to get ruffled and stressed for the minor blips that disrupt my day? Rae has a courage I can just barely begin to comprehend.

Rae recently wrote a post about another harsh reality of her life – diminishing income. So many of us can identify with that, but imagine being a woman with AIDS, who’s used to enjoying certain luxuries in life. Now Rae is taking public transportation and dealing with insufficent funds in her bank account. I told y’all, Rae lives her life out loud. She shares the stories so many of us don’t tell. I find so much inspiration in her honesty.

In the heyday of HIV/AIDS, she could earn quite a livable income from her speaking engagements. Now, “AIDS isn’t sexy anymore,” Rae explains. The speaking engagements aren’t as frequent or as lucrative as they used to be, and despite that Rae finds a way to keep it moving. She is dedicated to being a blogger, she is a licensed Baptist minister, and she continues making speaking appearances across the country. And when she isn’t working on those things she is constantly busy with her incredible bracelet line – The RLT Collection, which is just absolutely exquisite. Made with gemstones and crystals, the RLT Collection has an accessory for everyone. And every bracelet purchased supports Rae’s life, her work, her ministry, and truly helps to keep her going.

Click here to browse and to buy bracelets from the RLT Collection.

I love her stackable bracelets — ranging in price from $23 for the Faceted Black Glass to $75 for the yellow jade with fireball center that you see above, she’s got bracelets to take you from a day at the office to an evening out on the town.

Her wrap bracelets are coming next, and they’re going to be GORGEOUS.

Her Diva Collection of AIDS Awareness bracelets takes glamour to the next level. It’s a limited edition collection of designs featuring Rae’s signature red angelic crystal as a symbol of awareness. Her latest is the Hydeia Bracelet, a tribute to fellow activist Hydeia Broadbent. The next addition to the Diva Collection will be a birthday tribute to Rae herself — made of pearls, because they’re her favorite. She wants women to “wear this bracelet as a reminder to keep yourself protected from HIV/AIDS and to challenge the stigma associated with HIV.”

I had to ask Rae — you’ve revealed so much about yourself online, in your speeches, in your life’s work. Is there anything you’d like me to share about you?

She thought for a minute before responding. “When I think about my life — and even my collection is an example of this — I am NOT giving in. I continue to persevere in spite of. I work hard at living. Alot of the time we complain, but we don’t work hard at living. Take care of yourself. Invest in your life. Make yourself and your health a priority.”

Rae’s words resonated with me. And I hope they resonate with you.

In the future she’s working on many more bracelets, including a beautiful collection of recycled glass bracelets for summer, and her latest series of blog posts will take your breath away. Rae is currently sharing an ugly slice of reality so many of us would rather look away from — the the reality of having abusive parents and how that can affect your whole life. Please read, comment, share with your friends and loved ones. Rae Lewis Thornton is a living legend and her stories need to be told. She’s a warrior and a wise woman, a survivor to the core. And that she remains fresh dressed like a million bucks all the while, is ever more inspiring to a beauty-minded bella like myself.

This song reminds me of Rae’s spirit. Warriors Don’t Cry. They just keep it moving. For real, for real.

Click here to visit Rae’s blog, click here to buy her bracelets, click here to follow her on Twitter, click here to join her Facebook group.

Let her know she is appreciated and loved, and an inspiration to Afrobellas everywhere!


Rochelle says:
April 7, 2010, 9:50 am
I was introduces to Rae's blog through you a couple of weeks ago. And, I am proud to say that it is touching and inspiring me, every time I read it. Always learning from you. Thanks for hipping us to the diverse perspectives that deserve an audience as far reaching as possible.
Dee Dee says:
April 7, 2010, 10:05 am
Congrats to Rae! This was a beautifully written post & I really enjoyed reading about "Auntie Rae" lol. She really is an inspiration & I am happy to be on #teamRae.
Christine says:
April 7, 2010, 12:32 pm
Wow, this is a great post Bella. Thanks for bringing Rae a little bit of attention and hopefully a little bit more revenue. Come Friday (and my next paycheck) I hope to call one of those gorgeous Hydeia bracelets my own. Really stunning. And yes, AIDS work has become less "sexy" which is a shame especially when it is so gravely impacting so much of the world.
Mishara says:
April 7, 2010, 1:36 pm
I will say it again: I love this blog site. What an inspiring article. Now I'm off to begin reading her blog too.
Niki says:
April 7, 2010, 2:52 pm
What an inspiring woman! I remember reading about her back in the day in one of my mom's Essence magazines when I was a teen and she kept it raw & honest then and gave my young mind a lot to think about. It's a shame how some causes become "trendy" (remember AIDS ribbons? I haven't seen one of those on any red carpet in years) then cast aside for the next cause when the need is still there.
Denise says:
April 7, 2010, 3:26 pm
As usual'Bella, your writing is so eloquent. I remember first hearing about Ms. Thornton when I was younger. She was brave then for sharing her truth and she is brave now. Thank you for reminding those of us who had forgotten. I have become a fan of her FB page and will visit her blog and jewelry line soon.
Heather says:
April 7, 2010, 6:55 pm
Beautiful post about a beautiful woman. Cheers to her! I'm going to check out her bracelets.
Jamthelbg says:
April 7, 2010, 11:40 pm
Thanks so much for this post! We need to be aware of the affects of HIV/AIDS on our communities. Not only are we physically effected but we are economically drained as well. Thank you again for sharing Rae's powerful story.
Liz says:
April 8, 2010, 7:51 am
Wonderful post Afrobella!
Charrise says:
April 8, 2010, 9:43 am
WoW! What a great woman to hightlight!
Nette says:
April 8, 2010, 10:38 am
Wow! I'm sitting at my desk on the verge of tears after reading this post. What an inspiring woman!
Clara says:
April 8, 2010, 11:13 am
She is so very awesome. She keeps it so very very real.
sandra says:
April 8, 2010, 12:48 pm
Thank you AFrobella. I just ordered a beautiful bracelet. I will cherish it; this woman has soul and spirit and is sooooo encouraging. We need to support our sister. Her story is hear rendering and priceless. Thanks so much for sharing...I'm not sure why I never saw this Essence issue.
Jessica says:
April 8, 2010, 2:04 pm
This is a wonderful article about a great lady and her beautiful work, both as a speaker and as a jewelry designer! I'm so glad to be a part of #TeamRae.
melaniecheryl says:
April 8, 2010, 9:40 pm
I visited RLT's bracelet site after your first post on her. I thought her work was lovely but did not purchase anything. I guess I just needed another nudge. This time, I purchased the black pearl wrap bracelet. I can't wait to get it. Thanks Bella for introducing me to such a wonderfully inspiring Sister.
Lori says:
April 13, 2010, 10:23 pm
I have never heard of Rae but am extremely moved by her story and will follow her, thank you for sharing her story. I have followed Afro Bella for some time, initially while wearing my hair straight, much like Rae. I admired your posts highlighting women with natural styles but at the same time felt slightly isolated. I have been natural for 2 years now and continue to relate to women with straight and natural hair as at the end of the day it is not their hair that I relate to, but their overall being. As someone that has followed your site prior to being a natural, I encourage you to continue to post inspiring stories of women regardless of something as simple as their choice of hair style. Although straight styles are often over represented in our community, an inspiring story is an inspiring story and it would be wonderful to continue to show diversity on your site that reflects women beyond naturals. I say this because I found your site just as refreshing and inspiring with straight hair as a I do natural and feel your commentary and readers fill a void we as black women need on the internet. I would hate for women to feel isolated and miss this wonderful site because of their choice of hair. I hope you do not take this as criticism, I have admired your site for sometime and was happy to see a bit of a change in this post and would love to see more in the future.
ceecee says:
April 14, 2010, 3:50 pm
Joan Hall says:
March 10, 2011, 7:03 pm
Rae is such an inspiration to me. She keeps me grounded and keeps me from complaing about my aches and pains when she has so much more to bear.