Mary Fisher: “Be a messenger, not a victim”: HIV, AIDS activist speaks out on entrepreneurship in global world

On March 16, Mary Fisher, author, artist, advocate and social entrepreneur met with a group of Wilkes University students to discuss entrepreneurship as well as her story of HIV prior to her Allan P. Kirby lecture.

The discussion, held in the Henry Student Center Miller Room, allowed students to ask Fisher questions on her business skills while gaining a better understanding of the HIV and AIDS virus.

Fisher, who is a  mother of two and whose ex-husband died in 1993 from AIDS explained that her children, Max and Zachary, helped her at her lowest points.

“Those days, it was very much a death sentence,” Fisher said. She explained that while medication existed, she wasn’t able to take it, and many felt that the drug was actually killing people with the disease.

Fisher explained that she became an activist for her children because she “didn’t want them to feel the shame as they were growing up and going to school,” as she recalled a time when her sons were still young and they weren’t allowed to bring home teddy bears from school because people thought HIV could be spread through the home, which was  — and is — not the case.

Fisher acknowledged that people were uneducated on the disease and her advocacy works to tell people how they can protect themselves.

Part of this work is done through Fisher’s work with women in Africa.

She explained that she began teaching women in seven African countries how to make jewelry such as the “100 Good Deeds” bracelets because it gave them not only a trait but employment and responsibility.

Students asked Fisher questions on her life but also on entrepreneurship.

Fisher explained that a good entrepreneur must be creative, willing to take a risk, have business and marketing skills as well as getting “no sleep.”

She added that one of the biggest problems for entrepreneurs in Third World Countries is poverty. Because of this, Fisher teaches the women in these areas a trait which they can then use to invest in themselves and their families. Fisher shared stories of women who have been able to get other jobs, expanded their market place and now even rent homes.

Fisher later added that she visits these countries to help the women, regardless of her health.

“I go everywhere,” she said. “I don’t care so very much,” she explained of a trip to Liberia that was eventually canceled due to an ebola outbreak, only after her doctors urged her not to attend.

Fisher was also asked about the current AIDS epidemic and if she found any changes since her diagnosis in 1991.

She explained, “It’s still an epidemic;  people just aren’t talking about it.”

Fisher said that with new medical advances, the disease is no longer a death sentence but the stigma surrounding it discourages people from seeking treatment.

She added that in the United States alone, 1.2 million Americans have the disease whereas 850,000 people have died from it and 15 percent of Americans have it but are undiagnosed.

Fisher said that it continues to be the same story it was 25 years ago even though their have been strides in research and medication but stigmas still exist.

“I don’t feel like I’m a bad person and I don’t feel like I’m a victim,” she said. “It’s a disease like any other.”

Fisher explained that while her art and her businesses do help those infected with the virus, the most she can do to help other women is to share her story.

“Be a messenger, not a victim.”

The 100 Good Deed Bracelets are available online at and can also be purchased at Macy’s.