All posts tagged aids.gov

14 Posts

WORLD AIDS DAY 2014: CALL TO ACTION LIVE

As of 2013, AIDS has killed more than 36 million people worldwide (1981-2012), and an estimated 35.3 million people are living with HIV, making it one of the most important global public health issues in recorded history.So ThePoz+Life is calling for everyone to join us on November 29th at 1:00 PM EST via Google Hangout, YouTube, or ThePozLife.com for, ThePozLife: Nationwide Call to Action for World AIDS Day! For this to be successful we need you to share with your social networks, organizations and other news platforms.
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USCA 2014: Reflections of 3 Black Voices Bloggers – From Blog.AIDS.GOV Post

The 2014 U.S. Conference on AIDS (USCA) Exit Disclaimer earlier this month was the largest HIV/AIDS-related gathering in the nation. During the conference, the AIDS.gov team provided daily social media coverage Exit Disclaimer, policy updates, and technical assistance to conference participants in our social media lab.

Today, we bring you personal perspectives of the conference from Guy Anthony, Kahlib Barton, and Patrick Ingram: three bloggers from AIDS.gov’s Black Voices Blog, a bimonthly blog series written by black, gay millennials affected by HIV/AIDS. Each is a community leader is his own right, and all of them are sharing their experiences of living with HIV by using new media to amplify their voices and touch the lives of those like them.

Guy Anthony

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…we are moving in the right direction if we continue to advocate positioning ourselves at the table when it comes to issues that directly infect and affect us.”

For a USCA first-timer like me, being amongst so many passionate people, both infected and affected, was an indescribable feeling that I’ll never forget. USCA left me reeling with excitement to return to DC to “do the work.”I was incredibly inspired to hold everyone, including myself, accountable in the fight to eradicate this disease. Not just people providing direct services to clients, but agencies as a whole, executive directors, and policy-makers.

One of my favorite moments was the workshop titled “Black Gay Men: Where Are We Now? Where Do We Need to Be?” The references to black gay revolutionaries like Audre Lorde Exit Disclaimer, Essex Hemphill Exit Disclaimer, Marlon Riggs Exit Disclaimer were inspiring. I think, as a community, we are moving in the right direction if we continue to position ourselves at the table when it comes to issues that directly affect us. And what exactly does being represented at the “table” look like? A great example is Douglas Brooks, the Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; President Obama appointed him to that position earlier this year. Brooks is an HIV/AIDS activist, and a gay black man who is living with HIV. He leads the Administration’s work to reduce new HIV infections, improve health outcomes for people living with HIV, and eliminate HIV health disparities in the United States.

Overall, USCA 2014 was everything I thought it’d be. The dialogue at USCA was sincere and shared a common theme that black gay men need to start taking care of themselves, for themselves.

Kahlib Barton

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I became inspired to advocate for those who are unable to do so for themselves, because so many people advocated for me when I didn’t think I could.”

USCA Exit Disclaimer, NMAC Exit Disclaimer, PrEP, PEP. Alphabet soup anyone? All of these acronyms were foreign to me about a month ago. But now I not only know what they mean, but I am inspired to learn more about HIV and how I can make a difference. Because of NMAC’s Youth Scholar program Exit Disclaimer, I was able to attend USCA for the first time this year, and it has changed my life.

Hearing personal experiences of others living with HIV, and meeting all the NMAC Youth Scholars with so many inspiring backgrounds, were my highlight moments of USCA. Meeting these inspiring individuals who were willing to help me navigate this unfamiliar world helped me to take advantage of this opportunity.

One story that particularly resonated with me was Lawrence Stallworth; he is young, the same age as I am, and has been living with the virus for as long as I have. But until I met him, the difference between us was that he did not allow his status to define him. Lawrence has already traveled across the country speaking about HIV awareness, and now serves on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

At USCA, I became inspired to advocate for those who are unable to advocate for themselves, because so many of the people I met advocated for me when I didn’t think I could. Before USCA I was a shy, angst-ridden, 23-year-old man living with HIV. But I turned my shyness into sufficiency and my angst into assurance. Now I feel that I am empowered and ready to make a difference in my own community. I have now joined multiple councils and organizations to be sure that my voice is heard. Most important, I use my voice as my tool to combat stigma and raise awareness for all those suffering with, or because of, this disease.

Patrick Ingram

Patrick Ingram“As I continue to grow, I realize the impact of change that takes place when I speak up…”

I was thrilled to return to USCA this year as a member of both the NMAC Youth Scholars and the USCA Steering Committee. For me, USCA is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people who are dedicated to addressing HIV.

One highlight from my time at USCA was having the opportunity to visit the University of California at San Diego’s Center for AIDS Research (CEFAR) Exit Disclaimer with my fellow NMAC Youth Scholars. I was able to learn more about the amazing work being done in the field of HIV medications and vaccines research. Visiting CEFAR has encouraged me to continue to advocate for young, gay men of color to have access to biomedical research opportunities.

As I continue to grow, I realize the impact of change that takes place when I speak up and set my mind to the task at hand. USCA has shown me that sharing my experiences and using my voice are important, and I continue to do so on my personal blog and in my work at the Virginia Department of Health. USCA 2015 will be held in Washington DC, and I am interested in how government agencies and organizations that serve those affected by HIV will employ, listen, give opportunities to lead, and implement the ideas/strategies of youth.

Did you go to USCA 2014? Share your experience in the comments below. Read more from our Black Voices bloggers here.

– See more at: http://blog.aids.gov/2014/10/usca-2014-reflections-of-3-black-voices-bloggers.html#sthash.gRSS3cMJ.dpuf

The 2014 National Minority AIDS Council’s Youth Scholars

 The Poz+ Life is proud to have Patrick, Thomas, friends, cohorts, and most importantly friends selected to attend the 2014 United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in San Diego, California.  Thomas and Patrick will be providing live social media conversations , blogging and videos during and after the conference.  
HIV disproportionately impacts America’s young people, especially young gay and bisexual men of color. Approximately 25% of all new infections occur in youth and between 2007 and 2010, there was a 22% increase among gay men aged 13–24. NMAC’s Youth initiative, sponsored by ViiV Healthcare, the Magic Johnson Foundation and Advocates for Youth aims to assist youth in becoming more effective and informed health advocates, and empowering them to become more active in their communities.Hundreds of applicants between the ages of 18 – 25 applied to participate in our 2014 program, including the opportunity to further their leadership in the field of HIV/AIDS as well as attend the 2014 United States Conference on AIDS in San Diego, CA, from Oct. 2 – 5.

Participants will take part in various events throughout 2014, from webinars to conference calls, to help further develop their skills and knowledge and prepare them to lead efforts to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in their communities and across the country. NMAC is thrilled hat it can continue to offer this exciting initiative and to introduce you to the selected participants. For more than 25 years, NMAC has worked to develop leadership in communities of color to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic and is proud to have the opportunity to help develop the skills of a new generation of leaders

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The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) is very pleased to announce it has selected the Youth Scholars for NMAC’s Youth Initiative to End HIV in America. The eight-month Youth Initiative program is sponsored by NMAC in collaboration with ViiV HealthcareAdvocates for Youth, and the Magic Johnson Foundation and will provide opportunities for the scholars to develop leadership skills, increase knowledge, build confidence, and integrate youth in HIV/AIDS programs and policies.

Learn more about our scholars online here!  http://nmac.org/youth-scholars/

NMAC received and reviewed hundreds of applications through a competitive selection process. A Youth Advisory Committee worked with our Treatment Education Adherence Mobilization (TEAM) and Conferences & Meeting Services (CMS) divisions to select the 2014 recipients. We are incredibly proud to have a diverse, talented, and dynamic group of young leaders to participate in the Initiative.

With its focus on developing leadership among youth to end HIV in America, the skills the youth leaders will develop during the U.S. Conference on AIDS (USCA) will help drive the next generation of leaders in HIV. Through education and training, these individuals will develop the necessary tools to have a significant impact on the current and future landscape of HIV. Following the conference, the scholars will have the opportunity to share their skills with individuals in their own communities and through best practices, continue active participation in the HIV movement.

If you would like to learn more about the incredible group of Youth Scholars, you can view their pictures and bios on our website at: http://nmac.org/youth-scholars/.

Three Years of Knowing My HIV Positive Status

10575284_684433221634225_7606948107668887114_oThis December 1st, it will be three years since I learned about my positive HIV status. Since then, the journey hasn’t always been easy. I have experienced successes and challenges—but I am always learning. During my days of being newly diagnosed, dealing with mental illness, contemplating suicide, and, letting others stand in the way of my true happiness, kept me from being comfortable in my own skin. After countless visits with my therapist and having better support from those around me, I decided to start the process of disclosing my status through storytelling online. Despite my own difficulties, I have chosen to be open about my status and by using new media and public speaking, I believe I am helping to fight stigma. By showing people what it looks like to live with HIV, I am using my journey to amplify the voices of others like me. (This process may not work or be appropriate for everyone.)

Disclosure

While many people choose to keep their status private, my positive HIV status is something that I openly share. Telling people that I’m HIV-positive is not the hard part–I can simply send them a text or direct them to my blog Exit Disclaimer or YouTube channel Exit Disclaimer. The most difficult part for me is waiting for their response, because that’s the time I start second guessing if I should have revealed myself in the first place. But by speaking out, I have found who Patrick Ingram is. I am proud of him and I am proud of his journey.

The journey is not easy at all because having to deal with rejection and absurd reactions from others come with the territory. I face many uphill battles of having to explain what it is like living with HIV in today’s technological age to sexual partners, friends, colleagues, family members, and other loved ones. Disclosure for me is always tricky because there is never a perfect way of doing it. The easiest way for me is to share my blog or just pose a question like, “I am HIV-positive, is that an issue with you?”

The waiting game for a written, facial, or verbal response is always the most anxious part of the entire process for me. Some have questions and some block me on social media and never speak to me again. What I have learned that if someone is not comfortable being around me because of my HIV status, then they were not mature or worthy enough to really get a chance to know who Patrick is. My newly found confidence, love for myself, and growth as an individual has helped for me to continue to live openly.

The Power of Friendship

Having friends who love and support me has been an important part of my experience of living with HIV. My relationships have renewed my faith in the power of vulnerability; because I know those relationships would not have blossomed if I were not open and honest. Once I shared my fears, it was life changing to be able to place my trust in friends who did not change the way they interacted with me. In fact, having my best friend, Davia, say she loved me and that she would be my biggest cheerleader helped me get my life back on track. It’s wonderful to be able to be who you are. My friends remind me that I am not alone. With them, I can speak freely and feel a sense of normalcy–and I know they are on my side.

A Guiding Hand

Experience has taught me that having a guiding hand is valuable not only for my own journey, but also for addressing the challenges that the Black LGBTQ community faces. I am fortunate to have many inspirational mentors in my life–from a very good friend who helps me to reflect on my experiences, to an elder letting me cry on his shoulder and vent my frustrations. Prior to becoming HIV positive, I had one mentor, Calvin who constantly checked on me and empowered me to be the best person I can be. He was one of the first people to know my positive status on December 1st (World AIDS Day) and continues to keep in touch with me to ensure that I am taking care to ensure I take the necessary steps to keep the virus in check. Calvin and my other awesome mentors in my life are amazing in ensuring the journey is less of a struggle than a hardship.

I have also recognized that the work of organizations such as the Young Black Gay Leadership InitiativeAIDS.gov, the National Minority AIDS Council’s Exit Disclaimer Youth Initiative to End HIV/ AIDS in America, National Youth HIV&AIDS Awareness Day Exit Disclaimer, and individuals in communities have provided a lot of support to gender and sexual minorities of color. For example, the Elite Project in Birmingham, Alabama Exit Disclaimer is a safe drop-in center for the LGBTQ community in an otherwise conservative southern city. This center provides prevention services, entertainment, intellectual conversations, professional and personal development, and–most important–a place to be one’s true self. Centers such as the Elite Project are needed in every community across our nation to provide the same support, friendship, and mentorship that has helped me get through.

Taking the time to reflect on my journey since learning of my status is an important part of my experience living with HIV. Over the last three years, I have learned a great deal about myself and about living with HIV. Disclosing my HIV status has been difficult at times, but the support of friends, family, and the community has been very valuable in my journey.

I hope my reflections and story can inspire others to support people they know who are living with HIV and, for those with HIV to remember that they are not alone. For now, my goals are to: continue my daily work to educate others; break down the stigma by speaking out; serve as a resource for people who are newly diagnosed; educate myself more on issues that affect the Black community; and continue to seek self-improvement.

For the original piece on AIDS.gov click here

– See more at: http://blog.aids.gov/2014/09/three-years-of-knowing-my-positive-hiv-status.html#sthash.e4xr7zsD.dpuf

AIDS.Gov Black Voices: THE TRUTH ABOUT MY POSITIVE EXPERIENCE

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Ken Williams

There are a few things I want you to know about my positive experience. Whether you’ve worked in HIV for decades or are new to the epidemic, we all start somewhere. I’m a filmmaker and, ironically, my first introduction to the epidemic was through film. It was film where I started and film where I continue to this day.

Well before I became positive, my first in-depth look into the HIV epidemic was through the lens of a film called Philadelphia. For two hours I watched Tom Hanks’ character die on screen. What I took away from watching Philadelphia was that the typical HIV positive experience can be one of rejection and discrimination. It can be a stigmatized and demoralizing experience. Some people may think that your fate is considered your fault. As a person who has been living with HIV for four years, I now know this is not true.

The truth about my positive experience is that my life can often be seriously impacted by the social and physical implications of living with HIV. Almost every day, living with HIV means something different to me. Some days I feel hopeful because I take my medications and stay in care, while on other days, I feel shame because I am confronted head on by the stigma that is associated with living with HIV, leaving me feeling that I need to remain silent about my disease for fear of ridicule; the expectation that I must be dangerous because I am living with HIV. Having tested HIV positive just 4 years ago, I am still adjusting. Adjusting to how best to deal with stigma; how best to understand and manage what is happening in my body; how best to keep moving forward.

Much of this adjustment, for me, at least, is best handled by practicing optimism instead of fear. Optimism brought on by scientific advances; optimism brought on by my own personal growth and understanding of how to live a healthy life with HIV; and optimism that we are now talking about the real possibility of a generation free of HIV/AIDS. I learn daily and I listen to the outpouring of similar stories in my community and I take my meds and I live! I live despite the stigma. I live despite the fear. I share my story behind and in front of the camera and through these stories and connections I stay hopeful. I hope for an AIDS-free generation and a generation free of the stigma and fear and blame. I hope for a generation where I can continue to share my truths. My optimism drives me to want to see that generation.

What are you doing each day to bring us all to an AIDS-free generation?

– See more at: http://blog.aids.gov/2014/08/the-truth-about-my-positive-experience.html#sthash.1A8VLl08.dpuf

BLACK VOICES: INDEPENDENCE FROM HIV by Venton Jones

Last month, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy hosted the much-anticipated meeting on HIV in the Southern United States. Federal stakeholders, policy makers, national and regional venton-e1396560969818advocates were in attendance to outline the current state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the South and identify solutions for reducing the impact of HIV in this region of the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the South has the highest number of people who are becoming infected and the majority of the people who are living with HIV in the South are people of color. During this important meeting, I had the opportunity to share my perspective as a person from the South living with HIV and also share recommendations for addressing the existing challenges around eradicating HIV in the South.

I am originally from Dallas, Texas. I grew up with a passion for health care as most of my family were involved in various aspects of health-care service and delivery. After obtaining my Bachelor of Science in Community Health from Texas A&M University in 2006, I moved back to my hometown to start my career in public health. I then completed my Master of Science in Healthcare Administration. My primary area of interest was health disparities and understanding its impact within communities of color. This led me towards an interest in HIV/AIDS and its disproportionate impact on Black gay men and men of other races who have sex with men (MSM). Early on in my career, I realized the stigma and fear that was associated around addressing the needs of this population.

During my time in Dallas, I was involved with a number of local and state-level HIV groups, including the Texas HIV/STD Community Planning Group. One of my first jobs in HIV prevention was working with United Black Ellument Exit Disclaimer. This project, funded by the University of California’s Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, aimed to adapt the Mpowerment HIV prevention Exit Disclaimer intervention for young, Black, gay and bi-sexual men, between the ages of 18-29. Throughout my work, a major challenge I faced while living in the South was around getting health systems to understand the unique social and structural challenges that act as barriers to effective HIV prevention, care and treatment efforts within populations of Black gay men and other MSM. These include, but are not limited to: racism, homophobia, lack of culturally competent service delivery and a lack of Black gay men in leadership positions throughout the community, HIV/AIDS organizations and government.

This part of the country is directly in the cross-hairs of challenges that persistently contribute to increased HIV infection rates and low rates of viral suppression. I believe in order to get the HIV/AIDS epidemic under control in the United States and ultimately, to move to an AIDS-free generation, we must continue our intentional focus on the issues facing Black MSM.

How are you focusing your efforts on those issue facing Black MSM? People in the South?

– See more at: http://blog.aids.gov/2014/07/black-voices-independence-from-hiv.html#sthash.PD0u8gjU.dpuf

Black Voices Bloggers on National HIV Testing Day and Social Media

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June 27th is National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) and the theme for this year is “Take the Test. Take Control”. In recognition of this observance day, our Black Voices series bloggers answer the question why NHTD is important to them and what is one thing people (or organizations) can do to promote NHTD. Here is what they said:

Why is National HIV Testing Day important to you?

“This month marks my 7th year of living with HIV. I found out I was HIV positive on June 7, 2007 after receiving a positive diagnosis during an attempt to enlist into the United States Army. After I found out I was devastated, but also determined to survive and THRIVE. In order to do this, I knew I needed to manage my HIV and take control of my health. Taking this HIV test was the first step to making sure I remained healthy. Seven years later, I am still healthy with my HIV undetectable.” –Venton

“National HIV Testing Day is important to me because it’s a day that reaffirms the value of routine testing. It reopens the conversation about sexual health and risk to people in communities where either the conversation has fallen off or never been had. National HIV Testing Day becomes a marker, in the year, for many who might not otherwise engage in this type of dialogue.” – Ken

“National HIV Testing Day is important to me because it is an opportunity to know your status. With taking the test, and whatever the test results, you can take the necessary steps to educate yourself on HIV. If you are negative you can take the steps to remain negative (i.e. harm-reduction techniques and PrEP), and if you are positive you can get linked to care (with the goal of viral suppression). The day is also a perfect day to educate others on HIV and really let the community know that this is still an issue we are dealing with.” –Patrick

“NHTD is important because it provides an opportunity to put a face and voice on what HIV looks and sounds like. It’s an opportunity to continue an important conversation about our individual and collective health and wellness and the important work of eradicating stigma.” –Meico

“This day is a national coordinated effort to encourage Americans to get tested for HIV. It gives me a chance to speak with my friends and loved ones about HIV. Additionally, it allows me to support AIDS service organizations in promoting the day and amplifying their messages online.”-Anthony

What is one thing people (or organizations) can do to promote National HIV Testing Day?

“We’re all impacted (directly or indirectly) by HIV. You can help promote NHTD by sharing your story. As appropriate, send a text to your best friend. Call your mom. Chat-up one of your co-workers. Wondering how to start the conversation? Check out these great conversation starters from the CDC.” -Meico

“People and organizations can use social media and their networks to have a conversation about HIV. Ask friends, family, and colleagues if they know their HIV status and help them find a place they can get tested (using the locator.aids.gov website or application of course).” -Patrick

“Social media has been a great tool to help spread the word about the importance of National HIV Testing Day. So many people still do not know their status and it is important for people to be aware and informed about the steps they need to take in order to stay negative or, if positive, to get into care.” -Venton

“Participate. Participate. Participate. National HIV Testing Day for me is about the grassroots process of getting the education out to those who need it. You can also set the example by taking a test and sharing your experience with family members, the faith community and colleagues. It’s really about asking yourself: ‘how can I keep the conversation going?’ ” -Ken

What’s one thing you’re doing to promote National HIV Testing Day?

– See more at: http://blog.aids.gov/2014/06/black-voices-bloggers-on-national-hiv-testing-day-and-social-media.html#sthash.FX8cGSwV.dpuf

Will You Support Me Again

To donate and help me reach my fundraising goal please go to: https://www.crowdrise.com/TeamGrassrootsFULL/fundraiser/patrickkay

Over $18,000 raised last year let’s do even more!

The Grassroot Project serves to educate at-risk youth from Washington D.C. about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention by utilizing Division I “student-athlete” role models. Founded in January 2009, The Grassroot Project is one of the first 501(c)(3) organizations to be designed, initiated, and managed completely by NCAA Division I varsity athletes encompassing athletes from Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University and University of Maryland. We are also unique in our approach to HIV/AIDS prevention—instead of using a traditional education program that is lecture-based and taught by teachers or health educators, we use games that teach lessons and athletes as our messengers.

Mission:

The mission of The Grassroot Project is to use sports to educate at-risk youth in the community about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Our curriculum focuses on creating a fun, friendly and safe environment in which youth learn healthy life styles. The programs allow kids to share their feelings and beliefs, increase knowledge, and develop healthy attitudes and behaviors pertaining to HIV/AIDS through the use of interactive games and activities. By using the vehicle of sports to influence social change, student athletes use the curriculum to combat the high rate of HIV/AIDS in D.C

Check out www.grassrootsproject.org

Edugaytion Podcast

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BLACK VOICES: “WAIT A MINUTE DID I TAKE MY MEDS?”

“Wait a minute did I take my meds?” This is a question I often ask even if my pill box, mobile application, or friend says I have. Anxiety, nervousness, fear, and due diligence keep me on track to continue to the best of my ability to take my medications faithfully. For me the process of taking my three medications everyday at 9 am is an experience both with and without emotion.  Every time I swallow my pills, I am reminded that HIV is living inside me.

What Motivates Me (Inside and Out)

According to the CDC, one in four people living with HIV have achieved viral suppression. In other words, three out of four people living with HIV in the United States have either not connected to care or do not adhere to their medication to achieve viral suppression (meaning they have a very low level of HIV in your blood). And while that doesn’t mean I’m cured, by lowering the amount of virus in my body with medicines can keep me healthy, I am able to live longer, and significantly reduce chances of passing HIV on to others. To ensure that I have a great future is the motivating factor behind me staying focused on taking my medication as prescribed. I am proud that to I’m able to maintain my undetectable viral load while increasing my CD4 count/percentage. Seeing those lab results helps to show improvement and reward my diligence of staying on track.

Many people may be surprised when I use rewards to treat my success of staying adherent. Giving myself a pat on the back in the form of something that I enjoy gives me a goal to work toward.  I call myself a “cheatatarian,” because I tend to often sneak out of my vegetarian diet. My love for chicken sandwiches and seafood is ridiculous; therefore, when I stay adherent without any issues for the month I reward myself by going to my favorite restaurant and having some of those foods (in moderation of course)!

A good physical, mental, spiritual, and organizational balance also helps me stay adherent to my HIV meds. Even with my busy schedule running Pozlifeofpatrick Exit Disclaimer, going to school, and managing my professional duties, I always make personal quiet time. That “quiet time” might be playing my favorite game, training for my upcoming marathon, and video chatting with a friend or mentor. And while these activities aren’t necessarily “quiet”, the silence comes in being able to separate out the stressors of the blog, school, and work. This helps me slow down and take the time to focus on my medications.

Helpful Tools (Online and Off)

Tools like pillboxes and mobile applications can also help to remind people to take their medications. Personally, I use Care4Today Exit Disclaimer which alerts me to take my meds and helps me chart my adherence.  When I am out of town, it reminds me on east coast time (and even asks me to change the time zone). But the feature I find most helpful, is that it notifies providers or family members if I have not taken my medication. There are many online tools and applications like Care4Today,including pill monitor Exit DisclaimerThebody.com’s personal reminder service Exit Disclaimer, and RxmindMe Exit Disclaimer that have similar functions. All can be helpful for people who need a reminder or that will check in with a support person when/if you miss a day. Offline, I take extra care to ensure that I have my HIV medication located in my bag that I take everywhere (in a nice discreet carrier). This helps me just in case if I am in a rush and totaly forget about my medications.

Finding out what motivates you to stay adherent, along with a system that fits with your lifestyle, is the key. If you are living

– See more at: http://blog.aids.gov/2014/05/black-voices-wait-a-minute-did-i-take-my-meds.html#sthash.4MlQhK0f.dpuf

Young Black Gay/Bisexual/Queer/Trans Men are In!

 
Image  April second through the fourth saw 55 young black men from across the nation to meet in Atlanta, Georgia for the YBGLI’s second Policy and Advocacy Summit. When I confirmed to my parents that I was gay so many years ago they warned me that my life would be very difficult, and that it would be full of barriers that would require me to be the very best in everything that I do. This belief stayed within and made me believe until more recently that if I was not perfect or the best in whatever I was attempting then there was no reason trying to pursue.

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  While on my flight heading to Atlanta so many thoughts were running through my head. I really wanted to work hard to learn as much as possible and network. I am not going to lie when I felt as if the summit would be the same as any other conference, which would be information overload and maybe some opportunities to network. We all met downstairs to talk and network before walking over to the location we had our first session waiting for us. It was a great opportunity because it was a happy hour. This allowed us to begin the process to truly get to know each other. It was truly great to see old friends but have the ability to start the process of making new ones. Our first night had us at The Evolution Project. The Evolution Project is a drop-in community center for young black gay/bisexual men and transgender individuals between 18 and 28 years of age. There we got an overview of the drop-in center, listened to representatives of AID Atlanta and the state health department, and got to hear from Jose R. Rodriguez-Diaz who is the CEO of AID Atlanta. We then received a presentation on the Affordable Care Act and then had a private screening of Blackbird by Patrik-Ian Polk.

  Throughout the next day and a half we discussed health disparities, policy, advocacy, HIV prevention among Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men (YBMSM), research, leadership, Feminism and its importance to Black Gay Men, and personal development & personal branding. The always-fantastic Testing Makes Us Stronger Team gave a presentation on their program to us before the Twitter Town Hall that will forever remain one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

On the final day, we had two very special events and both of them I will cherish for the rest of my life. We had the pleasure of having Dr. Theo Hodge, whom is a provider in DC, yet shared his story about his experiences in the district during the AIDS epidemic. Hearing him tell the stories of having clients taking HIV medications in the handfuls, the effects of AZT that were physically noticeable, and more importantly reviewing the timeline of then to here. The recording of the presentation needs to happen so it has the opportunity to play for every Young Black Gay Man (heck everyone) who is not familiar with the history of HIV. Our group truly enjoyed his charisma and his ability to convey such a serious story in a way to continue to engage us throughout our time together. Finally, the last session of the summit was one where Dr. David Malebranche, Dr. Sheldon D. Fields, Robert Miller, and Mr. Bernard Owens each gave us their stories and additional encouragement. I cannot tell you how much I saw the future me in these men. Each of them made me feel so comfortable I was able to break down my walls of protection and cry on their shoulders. I finally was able to let out my internalized stress and express my frustrations in a space where I felt as if I did not have to be either politically correct or forced to give some bullshit pageant reply like “I just want world piece.” It is truly a blessing to be in this position; however, it sometimes makes me feel extra diligent to stay on my Ps and Qs (even if that means saving those conversations for ‘kitchen table talk’). Immediately they offered their experiences and friendships and I am happy to say that post YGBLI’s Policy and Advocacy Summit we are still in contact and their words and perspectives have been invaluable. Having this opportunity would have been very difficult to achieve outside of this space.

This summit was definitely a success and far exceeded my expectations. The participants were very diverse and came from different geographical areas and professional (not just HIV). Topics were set but we had the ability to truly dissect what we were discussing, even if it transitioned off-topic for a bit. Having the ability to speak to representatives of our government agencies (CDC, HRSA, SAMHSA, and the Georgia Department of Public Health) gave us the ability to voice our concerns, thoughts, and ideas. The lack of job vacancies/internships and leadership positions, slow approval times for marketing materials, lack of funding to rural and other low socioeconomic communities that are seeing a rise in HIV, lack of cultural competency, and a vast array of others issues that were mentioned during this time period. I concern I had was that many of the representatives on the panel were white and only two members participating were Black. This is a perfect reminder that we need to have more opportunities to have Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men (to include those who are HIV-positive) to fill these seats in the future to ensure that decisions made for us are created by and come from us. A huge shout-out though goes to Mr. Harold Phillips of HRSA who saw a need to address our questions due to the lack of time/ability of those reps on the panel to answer them. He graciously volunteered his own time to say back lack from 12am-1am to answer any of the questions he could. During this time, our awesome Organizing Committee Members took who concerns down and later brought them up with Douglas Brooks, the New Director Imageof the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). Feeling as if we had a voice was very empowering. Having that experience has and will continue to ensure engage my government on concerning issues.

The Policy and Advocacy Summit allowed for the formation of new relationships and partnership .It was like a beginning of a new brotherhood. From my end, there were phenomenal conversations and I cannot wait to announce fantastic news in the coming weeks! Addressing surviving as an YBMSM professional, leadership, and more importantly branding made me look at myself and analyze ways I can still to this day continue to seek self-improvement. This summit created a space where we could exchange stories, ideas, experiences, and more importantly continued support for one another. To this day, I am still in contact with many of my new friends and colleagues as we check in or support each other through the struggles of being an YBMSM in a society that has serious issues accepting us as social norms.

Coming to a close of the summit Daniel Driffin, Chair of the Organizing Committee for YBGLI said something that we all took back to our homes, careers, and everyday lives. This was that our voice does matter, no matter where we were, no matter how hard the struggle was, and no matter how muchImage we felt like our voices were unheard. This can seem very frustrating at jobs or ASOs where our advice or knowledge isn’t used; we continue to be disenfranchised; we deal with disrespect or ignorance from Cisgender white men (even gay) who do not truly understand the struggles and barriers of being a young Black Man who loves Men. These men still face a huge war within our own communities, to include mainstream society. His words really were soothing and helped to bury anger and resentment I had from some of those situations. In the end, I truly hope that this summit continues and wish that many more could take place across the country. If we can get more YBMSMs to go through a program like this, our community would see an increase in advocacy, activism, enlightenment, and progression toward more solidarity.

 

A very special thank you goes out to NGBMAC, NASTAD, The City of Atlanta, AID Atlanta, The Evolution Project, Testing Makes Us Stronger, Sphere Lab, The Red Door Foundation, Inc., AIDS.gov, Gilead, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Georgia Department of Health, Impulse Group, AHF, Hudson Grille, Patrik-Ian Polk, HRC, Broadway Cares, Levi Strauss Foundation, Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel, Summit Faculty, OC Members, and more importantly the participants for making this event happen.  For more information check out www.ybgli.org

Do you swallow

Great work by Venton Jones and the Aids.gov team! Check out http://blog.aids.gov/2014/04/swallow-a-pill-for-hiv-prevention.html for more information