Review

We Are All the Same: A Story of a Boy's Courage and a Mother's Love

by Jim Wooten



By the late 1980s AIDS had become an epidemic. The dreaded disease
was particularly devastating to black South Africans, segregated by
race, poverty and cruel social stigma. Those afflicted did not know
the name of this illness; they called it "the thin disease." They
knew only that to contract it was to receive a death
sentence.

Veteran news correspondent Jim Wooten had spent much time reporting
war, strife and upheaval on the African continent. It is through
Jim's eyes, ears and soul that Nkosi Johnson's story is revealed.
In February 1989 a tiny, sickly baby boy was born to Daphne, a
single teenager living in poverty in a remote village with no name
in what had once been Zululand. Daphne contracted AIDS during this
second pregnancy, so at birth her baby was already destined to
suffer.

While more developed parts of the world were setting up AIDS care
centers, shelters and hospices, South Africa remained, medically
speaking, in the Stone Age. Public officials refused to deal with
the grave situation. President Thabo Mbeki stonewalled efforts to
provide information about the disease and any possible treatment
for it. In fact, Mbeki went so far as to say that AIDS medications
were poison.

Daphne was frightened because her tiny baby was constantly ill and
could not gain weight. She crossed social and cultural barriers
just to take Nkosi to a clinic in the white part of town where a
kindly doctor gave her the dreaded news that both she and Nkosi
were afflicted. Daphne was determined to place her son someplace
where he would be taken care of when she became too ill to look
after him.

Gail Johnson, a middle-class white woman who lived in a suburb of
Johannesburg, became an outspoken advocate for AIDS patients after
meeting a friend's brother who was dying of AIDS alone and uncared
for. She was appalled that AIDS patients were treated like
modern-day lepers. Gail set up a shelter for these dying white men,
and Daphne showed up on the doorstep of the Guest House in
Johannesburg begging the shelter's staff to take her son. Nkosi did
move into the shelter and instantly became the darling of both
patients and staff. Financial problems soon forced the closing of
the Guest House, so Gail and her family took Nkosi into their home
to raise as their own. Daphne died when Nkosi was three.

In Gail's home Nkosi received unconditional love, healthy food,
hygenic surroundings, and a chance to be a happy child in spite of
his illness. Much of the book deals with Gail's efforts to educate
people about the need for treatment and compassion for AIDS
victims. She had a real fight on her hands just trying to enroll
Nkosi in school. Together, Nkosi and foster mother Gail became
powerful AIDS spokespersons. Nkosi considered it his duty to speak
up to try to soften the hearts of government officials and others
who could make a real difference in the war against AIDS.

The title of this extremely powerful book is extracted from a
speech Nkosi often gave. Everywhere he went Nkosi reminded folks,
"We are all the same." Nkosi and Gail appeared on television
broadcasts in America and visited New York to give speeches at
worldwide conferences. Though Nkosi was born into poverty and
disease in a Third World country, he had become famous long before
he died at age twelve. His obituary appeared on the front page of
many prominent newspapers. The courageous poster child accomplished
his mission.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 24, 2011

We Are All the Same: A Story of a Boy's Courage and a Mother's Love
by Jim Wooten

  • Publication Date: November 4, 2004
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The
  • ISBN-10: 1594200289
  • ISBN-13: 9781594200281