By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s World AIDS Day, and a West Philadelphia HIV activist is sharing the story of keeping his HIV-positive status secret for 25 years. He’s screening a documentary about his life in more than a dozen theaters worldwide today, including in Philadelphia.

“25 to Life” tells the story of William Brawner. Now 35-years-old, Brawner contracted HIV from a transfusion he received after being severely burned as a toddler.

“Being a young black child with burns was hard enough,” he says. “We had family members we couldn’t tell because there wasn’t enough information out there about it.”

He recalls the day his mother told him he had HIV. He was 5-years-old.

“She said, ‘Bill, you have HIV and you have to take medications. But I need you not to tell anybody, because if people find out that you have this…they may want to hurt us,'” says Brawner.

So he kept his HIV-positive status secret, telling few people — even keeping it from women he slept with.

“I had a girlfriend. We were very serious, we had sex, and she didn’t know,” he says. “And I felt so guilty.”

William Brawner (credit: Cherri Gregg)

William Brawner (credit: Cherri Gregg)

The film chronicles his “player” days at Howard University, his decision to publicly disclose his status and then to work as an HIV and AIDS advocate and speaker, as well as his family life. It includes commentary from friends and family and their perspectives on Brawner’s secrecy.

“My girlfriends didn’t know my status; no one knew my status,” he says, “God is blessing me because I finally decided to do what was right.”

The Philadelphia screening is tonight at 7 p.m. at International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut Street. Tickets are $10. Brawner will be on site after the screening for Q&A.

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