David Hawkins doesn’t want revenge, he doesn’t want to get even, he simply wants to one-up all who wronged him by doing a great job. “Being gay in the nineties in the Upstate? It was bad,” shares the effervescent public relations guru. “It was violent, it was stitches, it was broken bones. Exactly what you’d expect.”

He couldn’t get out of town quickly enough. After a 17-year exodus, Hawkins is back and literally making headlines, both for his clients and his charitable work. He’s risen above retribution, choosing to focus on living his best life, while assisting others along the way. “I want to serve my hometown in whatever way it allows me to do so,” he shares. “Through charity, through creativity, through commerce. Isn’t that the best revenge?”

Back in 2004, Hawkins secured a one-way ticket north. Eight years flew by in New York City, handling media relations and marketing for A-listers in the world of fashion and reality TV. Runway shows and seating charts for Carolina Herrera and Badgley Mischka? No problem. Book deals, shoe lines, and hash tags for the stars of Bravo and Food Network? Done, done, and done. He eventually moved to the West Coast, lured by a new job and the warmth of the sun. “As much as I adore Los Angeles, I wasn’t meant to live there,” he jokes upon reflection. He also missed his mom. It was time to come home, but not too close.

He landed in Asheville and entered retail, but after a couple of years, his life pivoted without warning upon hearing three words: “You have AIDS.”

“It was touch and go at first,” he shares. “I had a fast-acting strain and went straight into the hospital. But eight years later, I’m super-healthy and it’s now non-detectable in my body. There’s comfort in science, and it’s a powerful place to be transparent and an advocate for HIV people everywhere.”

There’s comfort in science, and it’s a powerful place to be transparent and an advocate for HIV people everywhere.

Unlike the wounded teen who left the Upstate, Hawkins has returned home a warrior fighting for awareness across his issues and others. Through his business, My PR Lab Public Relations, he tells the life-affirming stories of his clients, his causes, and himself. He’s known for producing catchy T-shirts that support local charities and is organizing the area’s first trans- and gender-expansive fashion show, set for late June.

“This is my way to maintain the progress of moving forward and giving people a really fun way to extend themselves and those in the community,” he explains with excitement. “When I left all those years ago, I didn’t have a good taste in my mouth. But I’ve changed so much. Greenville’s changed so much. I like to say, we grew up at the same rate and we’re now able to meet in the middle.”

For more on Hawkins, and his favorite charities and projects, visit mypr-lab.com.

AID Upstate

When Hawkins returned home HIV positive, AID Upstate became his lifeline for comprehensive care, including therapy, testing, and support services. Over three-and-a-half decades, the group has evolved from a grassroots effort to a clearing house of resources, acting as a beacon to those navigating a new and difficult journey. Roughly, 1,300 people living with HIV rely upon AID Upstate for assistance each year, while 2,500 tap into the group’s intervention protection services.

Hawkins is determined to shine a light on AID Upstate and the disease. “Everybody knows someone who is HIV positive, you just don’t know it,” he declares. “And thank God for it. The medicines work! I hope in my lifetime there’s a cure, but until then, I’m going to be out here fighting, singing, and letting people know we’re healthy and a vital part of the community, and AID Upstate positions us to have access like everyone else.”

For more, visit aidupstate.org.