Linda Scruggs was 25 years old and 13 weeks pregnant when she tested positive for HIV in 1990. “They told me that I had the option of terminating the pregnancy to prolong my health, and they offered me, with the termination, five years to live,” Scruggs told CNN in 2011. “If I did not terminate this baby, probably me and the baby both would be dead within three years.”
Refusing to give up her child, Scruggs settled for her three-year expiration date, which came and went. (And the child, Isaiah, was born HIV-negative.) Over two decades later, Scruggs, now 50, has become not only a success story but an HIV activist, coordinating programs to spread awareness and fight the stigma that remains after all these years.
For 10 years, Scruggs was the director of programs for the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth, and Families in Washington, D.C., and since then she’s spoken about HIV in front of heads of state (including former president Bill Clinton), been honored by President Obama, and traveled to remote villages in South Africa to talk about HIV, and she was a much-lauded plenary speaker at the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., where she spoke about the importance of women and girls in turning the tide against HIV. She is a founding member of the Positive Women’s Network-USA and the National Black Woman HIV Network. Scruggs decided in 2006 to pursue higher education, and in 2010 she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in human services.
Scruggs cofounded the Ribbon Consulting Group with another woman on this list, Vanessa Johnson. Together they have a combined 50 years of experience dealing with HIV and other health issues. Along with their members, Scruggs and Johnson provide consulting services to help organizations, health departments, and hospitals increase their ability to support and promote healthy communities through collaborative partnerships and community engagements.
Oh, and that single mom with the death sentence in 1991? She eventually married an HIV-positive man, Nathaniel, and the two have a blended family that includes her son Isaiah, Nathaniel’s two children, and another son, Lawrence, whom Scruggs adopted in 1997, when he was 9 years old.