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In 1985, she was sitting in a college classroom with her best girlfriend when the professor announced that there was this new disease, one you can only get by coming in contact with a gay man or IV drug users.

In 2002, she saw that same best girlfriend die of AIDS.

Mo’Nique knows the kind of Hollywood success most entertainers only dream of. She also knows AIDS.

“When AIDS was introduced to us, there was such a dark cloud over it,” says Mo’Nique. Now, she’s a woman determined to do her part to lift the cloud. The award-winning actress starred as the irrepressible, bodacious Nikki Parker in the top-rated comedy series The Parkers. In her personal life, the comedienne stars as a hero in the struggle.

“As Black women and as a community, we need to start speaking up and speaking out on HIV/AIDS,” says Mo’Nique. “The disease has no face and does not discriminate. You can be any age, make any amount of money, have an extremely successful career, look gorgeous and still contract HIV and die.”

The entertainer partnered with Essence magazine and the Black AIDS Institute to raise funds and awareness through subscriptions. She and her television show also participated in media giant Viacom’s company-wide campaign to raise AIDS awareness. In addition, she has appeared in the nationwide PSA campaign, No Excuses, and has been active in BET’s Rap-It-Up. Mo’Nique has also donated the proceeds from a number of her performances to AIDS organizations.

“I look at AIDS like any other disease,” says Mo’Nique, who’s passionate about viewing HIV/AIDS without judgment. “It’s like a cancer. It’s like diabetes or leukemia. Some believe the myths about AIDS, like, ‘you got AIDS, you must be a whore or gay or use drugs.’ Some of those things happen, but you might also happen to be a cool sister who got with the wrong man who wasn’t honest.”

Her best friend Charisse was such a cool sister. The man she loved was HIV-positive and never revealed his status to her. The truth only came out during a pregnancy test. Charisse died, leaving behind a young son.

“There was one question she would ask me over and over,” says Mo’Nique of the most challenging part of the journey with her best friend since age seven. “That question was: why me? I had no answer for her.”

The actress also tells the heart-wrenching story of an uncle who died of AIDS, and of a grandmother who, because of her disgust, would only admit to the uncle dying of kidney failure, a reality the grandmother took to her grave. These are stories that might challenge a lesser person’s faith, but not Mo’Nique. She is proud of her strong belief in God, and if anything, the experiences fuel her drive for education, compassion and understanding.

“Ask questions, get an AIDS testt. Together,” says Mo’Nique. “Use condoms. If one or both of you is positive, I’m not saying stop loving each other. Stay protected. We have this attitude that the disease is so dreaded, like, ‘oh my God, if my man got AIDS, I’d leave him.’ They’re still human beings. They still have the ability to love and be loved.”

Mo’Nique Imes-Jackson was born on December 11, 1967, in Baltimore. As a child, she didn’t let her large physique get in the way of being outrageous or outgoing. In fact, in school, she was voted Most Popular and Best Dressed. At age 17, Mo’Nique began working as a plus-size model. She took to the stage for the first time on a dare from her brother and the standing ovation she received that night inspired her to consider comedy as a profession. Her career began to skyrocket with performances on Showtime at the Apollo, HBO’s Russell Simmons Def Comedy Jam, Apollo Comedy Hour, HBO’s Snaps, Uptown Comedy Club, BET Comic View, The Montreal Comedy Festival, and It’s a Funny Country, a syndicated show in South Africa. Mo’Nique has also starred in several feature films, including Three Strikes, Baby Boy, and Two Can Play That Game, which earned her an NAACP Image Award Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture. Today, she is thriving as a performer and has written her autobiography, Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big Girl in a Small-Minded World. She also launched a clothing line and produced the film Beauty Shop. Mo’Nique has a big personality and an even bigger heart. It’s no small coincidence that her character, Nikki Parker, does too.

“She’s all of me,” says Mo’Nique. “All my comedy is based on me and I am a sexy, full-figured, very outspoken glamour doll! Nikki Parker is that same person.”

Mo’Nique’s portrayal of Nikki Parker earned her the NAACP Image Award two years in a row. Her angelic, church-girl look is the perfect contrast to her self-described “sexy-sweet” style of comedy. The mother of a teenage son, the actress recently gave birth to twin boys. When asked about the kind of world she would like to see them grow up in, she says, “I would like to see them live in a world without judgment. I would like to see my kids grow up in a world where everybody says ‘how are you doing’ and means it, where everybody’s valued, no matter if they’re Black or gay or fat or HIV-positive or what. If you took time out to see the beauty inside you, you’d see nothing but beauty in this world.”

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