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National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: The Need for Action

Rachel headshotBy Rachel Yull
Public Policy Intern, AIDS United

This Thursday, April 10, was National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, commemorating the work that young people are doing to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  This day gives young people the opportunity to show support as well as educate people about HIV.  I have noticed a lack of young people advocating for social issues, including HIV, and I encourage all youth to get involved in the fight to end HIV in our generation.  There are many things that you can do to get involved, whether getting tested at a local testing center, organizing a sexual health and HIV education program at your school, or distributing free condoms to increase access and awareness of safe practices.

Although HIV has not directly affected my close friends or family, I became an advocate after learning of the health disparities that exist within the Black community.  As a young Black woman I find this day of paramount importance for people in my demographic: the incidence of HIV among Black youth has been on the rise and Black youth make up 57% of all HIV infections among young people age 18-24.

Last year, during my sophomore year of college at Cornell University, I took a class entitled “The Sociology of Health of Ethnic Minorities.” This course gave me the ability to understand and the language to verbalize the health disparities that I have seen in my community.  With this knowledge I decided that I wanted to become an HIV advocate inspiring me to reach out to the AIDS United policy team.  When I received an internship to work with the policy team for a semester, I had no idea what to expect. I had never done any advocacy work before and the only things I knew about HIV were what I learned in class, but my internship at AIDS United has been one of the best experiences I have ever had.

Through my internship I have learned that although the rates of HIV are decreasing there is still much work to be done.  I learned about the HIV treatment cascade, which includes all of the steps of treatment from being diagnosed through having an undetectable viral load.  Among youth the most significant problem along the treatment cascade is a lack of awareness of their status, or their lack of education about the importance of getting tested.  According to the CDC, almost 60% of HIV positive youth do not know their status.  Therefore, National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day reminds us to pay particular attention to campaigns and programs to educate youth on the importance of getting tested and knowing their status.  From my experience at AIDS United, I have also realized the importance of young people getting involved in politics and having our voices heard by our Representatives and Senators in Congress. This is the one of the effective ways that our generation can effect policy change that can help in leading to an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  On this National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, let’s not only reflect on the work that needs to be done, but resolve to take action and do the work, regardless of our age or status.

National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: Music, Media, and Outreach


By Bernadette Carriere
Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow, AIDS United

I grew up in the early 90’s, an era when HIV was considered a death sentence, an idea that was perpetuated by much of the popular culture of the time.  Music channels like MTV were among the first to take the lead to promote awareness about many issues facing young people, including HIV, and the plight of urban youth. These two issues came to an intersection on the music television station with the untimely death of rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, who died in 1995, soon after being diagnosed with AIDS.

I remember watching MTV’s news cover the rapper’s death.  N.W.A.’s group members, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and MC Ren, were talking about their fallen comrade in disbelief as he would no longer be with them after contracting the fatal illness.  The media frenzy surrounding his death was headline news because HIV could now look like anyone.  After all, HIV was a virus associated with white gay males. A year prior, MTV aired The Real World: San Francisco which featured a cast member who was infected with the virus that causes AIDS.  The cast member for whom my fellowship was named, Pedro Zamora, brought international attention to HIV/AIDS and issues surrounding the LGBT community.

Prior to airing Real World: San Francisco, MTV helped to make an R&B girl group popular.  TLC gained rapid popularity through their racy song lyrics and their fashion sense.  They wore oversized clothing with condoms pinned to them.  They used their image to bring awareness to social issues that included the promotion of safe sex and they did so by removing the shame associated with condoms.  Everyone who watched music videos was able to see and hear their message.  However, after the death of Eazy-E, the message was now resonating with young adults across America.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to visit Metro TeenAIDS in DC’s Southeast neighborhood. I met with executive Director Adam Tenner, who listened to me express many concerns I had over the issues urban youth face today.  I was impressed by his level of commitment to kids that are sometimes dismissed as hopeless.  I was also equally impressed by the use of media and music Metro TeenAIDS used to keep the kids engaged in the program, as music videos on television have given way to web channels as a major component of youth engagement.

Then I had the opportunity to meet these wonderful kids who were well-mannered and welcoming.  They embraced me into their world and included me into their discussions.  I was initially shocked at the level of openness in which these kids engaged one another.   As an individual would openly talk about personal adversity another would politely listen and wait to share whatever it was that they were dealing with at the moment.  Most of the issues they discussed centered on wanting to be treated with respect and being trusted that they could make decisions and be responsible if given the proper tools.

It was poetry Friday.  Music was playing in the background and I wanted to engage the kids before the performances started.  I was interested in why was it important for them to be a part of Metro TeenAIDS considering the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.  The response from the kids I talked to was the same.  They felt empowered to be able to teach their peers about sexual health and HIV prevention and they were using several media outlets to engage one another.

I left that day truly inspired.  The kids I spoke to were able to articulate their feelings about HIV and explain how they based their decisions to take action. Today, music television is no longer the primary source for reaching youth, and HIV is no longer seen as a death sentence.  However, music is still an important component in connecting with young people.  Metro TeenAIDS has utilized this method and has successfully created a community space for kids to unite.  They have also provided kids with the necessary tools they need to become effective advocates in the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

Addressing the Issues of Women, HIV and Violence Together, Today and Every Day

MDonze headshotBy Melissa Donze, Program Associate, AIDS United

Every year on March 10, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day gives us the opportunity to raise awareness and bring attention to the continued impact HIV has on the lives of women across the country. Women and girls make up about one in four of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, and a majority of these are women and girls of color. These women face barriers to accessing and staying in care, which is critical to their continued health and viral suppression.

When we talk about women’s health, however, talking about HIV alone isn’t enough; we must talk about violence too. Experiences of violence and resultant trauma have a significant impact on women’s health, especially for women living with HIV. Women living with HIV experience highly disproportionate rates of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to the general population of women: 55% have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV), twice the national rate; over 60% have been sexually abused, five times the national rate; and 30% have PTSD, six times the national rate. Trauma and PTSD are associated with poor health outcomes at each stage of the HIV care continuum, including disengagement from care, medication non-adherence and medication failure. Recent trauma is also linked with almost twice the rate of death among HIV-positive women.

In September 2013, we took a huge step forward in addressing these issues. The President’s Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence against Women and Girls, and Gender-Related Health Disparities, formed in March 2012, released a report that identified five objectives and recommended actions for federal agencies to increase interventions to link women living with HIV and affected by violence to much-needed services and care, as well as encourage broader prevention efforts and research. In response to this report, AIDS United, with generous support from AbbVie, convened a Summit with an interdisciplinary group of activists, thought leaders, academics, women living with HIV and federal partners to provide commentary and develop innovative community-driven advocacy and implementation strategies to address the intersection of women, HIV and violence. The strategies developed throughout the two-day meeting, summarized here, provide tangible steps we can take to ensure that the issues of women, HIV and violence are addressed together.

These experiences are lived by women and girls across the country every day, so while a single day to highlight the impact of HIV on women and girls is important, it simply isn’t enough. We must continue to have these conversations every day because violence is real and affects every aspect of women’s health, especially for women living with HIV, and it won’t go away tomorrow. Let’s use National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to recommit ourselves to addressing HIV and violence together, for all the women in our lives.

Click here to view photos from the summit.

The Importance of Community Based Organizations for Women and Girls

By Priya Rajkumar, Vice President of Client Health Services, Metro Wellness and Community Centers
On March 10th each year, National Women’s and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day brings to the forefront the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. The unique challenges women face from partner violence, lack of child care, and absence of support and hope are issues which are often overlooked. Not to mention the impact of poverty and limited resources that is in the mix to manage.

Metro Wellness and Community Centers (Metro) has for so long understood the tremendous impact of these issues on women and girls. Providing gender responsive programming to help support, empower, and provide hope to women and girls infected and affected by HIV/AIDS has been a successful strategy in helping women to overcome numerous barriers to attain good health and stability in their lives. I am grateful to be part of the difference that Metro makes in the lives of the many women we serve. However, there is much more work to be done.

The theme for NWGHAAD “Share Knowledge, Take Action” holds true each and every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of the end of 2010, one in four people living with a diagnosis of HIV infection in the United States were women. Black/African American women and Latinas are disproportionately affected by HIV infection compared with women of other races/ethnicities. Of the total number of new HIV infections among women in the United States in 2010, 64% occurred in blacks/African Americans, 18% were in whites, and 15% were in Hispanics/Latinas.

CBOs must continue to focus on at-risk women, including those who are left to support and care for children whose father is incarcerated, as well as women and girls who, because of their own criminal background, are struggling to find a job, cannot find adequate housing, and cannot afford proper nutrition for their children, much less find child care so that they can take time to seek medical care.

It is critical that community based organizations (CBOs) and advocacy groups continue to keep the discussion active around the issues women and girls with HIV/AIDS are living with every day. Many like Metro are effective in helping women and girls achieve good health outcomes through services like medical case management, support groups, behavioral health care, and much more. These CBOs offer expertise in finding innovative means to reach women and girls in their communities to provide education about HIV testing, prevention, and treatment options.

Metro, as a member of the AIDS United Public Policy Community, relies on the advocacy efforts of this body to share the very real successes happening in the field and to keep the discussion of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls active. Without the advocacy, education and joint efforts, this very important work would not be able to continue.

As we host our own events and participate in other community events on NWAGHAAD, let’s strive to keep the awareness and recognition of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls at the forefront of our discussions and encourage each other to take action towards reducing the burden of HIV/AIDS among women and girls.

Team Detroit; World AIDS Day at Spirit of Hope

World AIDS Day is observed annually on December 1st with the goal of raising global awareness of HIV and the AIDS pandemic. In 2013, the World AIDS Day theme was “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation”, highlighting the fact that an AIDS-free generation requires cooperation both within and between communities. Keeping this theme in mind, the Detroit AIDS United team partnered with Spirit of Hope Church for its commemoration service on December 1.
The commemoration service gave attendees a chance to honor loved ones by writing their names on red pieces of cloth and included several speakers who shared their experiences with HIV. One man spoke about the cultural shift that he observed away from the carefree, sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s as the HIV pandemic grew. As he saw his otherwise healthy friends and family fall victim to HIV, he realized that he had to both take responsibility for his own health as well as accept those around him who were affected by the virus. Acceptance, rather than toleration, is the key to eliminating AIDS as it lessens the negative stigma surrounding the virus. By lessening the fear around the virus, more people feel encouraged to get tested, and people living with HIV build the confidence that they need to fight the virus. This confidence manifests itself by helping people stick to treatment plans and practice less risky behaviors more consistently. Acceptance is a way of taking responsibility for eliminating AIDS, which is shared by everyone.


Another woman spoke about her struggles with receiving acceptance and support after her initial diagnosis with HIV. She was four-months pregnant when she was tested positive for HIV by her doctor. She was neither informed of her options nor given any pre or post test counseling. She was essentially given her diagnosis and left to fend for herself. From there, she had problems receiving acceptance from her family members. Her story left a particularly powerful impact on me, as an HIV counselor. It reminded me that my work does hold meaning and can have strong effects on how my clients act after being tested. Despite the fact that some clients seem unresponsive to risk reduction strategies, just being a listening ear for someone to talk to about their concerns can give them a sense of comfort and empower them to make more informed decisions in the future.

The Detroit AIDS United team participated at the commemoration by helping with set up and directing/welcoming attendees to Spirit of Hope. We also partnered with Affirmations as part of the Facing AIDS campaign. Facing AIDS is a website that posts pictures of people with signs explaining why they are facing AIDS. The goal of the campaign is to put faces to the virus, eliminate the negative stigma around HIV, and explain why people take action in the fight against HIV. At the commemoration service, our team encouraged attendees to make their own signs stating their reasons for fighting AIDS and hung them up in the church. We also took pictures of participants with their signs if they agreed to do so. Hanging these signs up helped bring the commemoration attendees together by participating in a common activity. People also noticed common themes in their reasons for facing AIDS, such as love for their communities and desire to reduce stigmatization.


Overall, World AIDS Day impacted the Detroit Americorps team as much as we impacted the people at the commemoration service. We heard fresh perspectives on the importance of sharing responsibility for HIV and are excited to use these new ideas in our work at our agencies as the year progresses.

Team Chicago Makes A Difference!

On Saturday, October 26th, Team Chicago traveled to Chicago’s far west side to serve the Lewis School of Excellence in Austin, one of the city’s high-need neighborhoods. We worked alongside City Year Chicago and 300 other AmeriCorps members, community residents, parents, and teachers to “make a difference” by beautifying and organizing the school.

The Lewis School of Excellence is an AULS (Academy for Urban School Leadership) turnaround school. This means that the AULS has taken a school that has been chronically failing for years and has transformed it into a high-performing institution. They’ve put new trained leadership into the schools, from the principal to the teachers, and instated a new curriculum, with the hope that the school will become more successful. It only made sense that as the AULS transformed the students and staff, our team could heMLK Quotelp transform the learning environment which they inhabit each week.

Volunteers spent the day painting several murals around the school’s hallways and organizing the school’s library. Our team’s specific project was to help with the murals. When we first entered the building, the hallways didn’t have much art or color, aside from a few bulletin boards. Our team adorned the wall with paw prints (the school’s mascot is a Lion), portraits and quotes from influential African American leaders, an outline of Chicago’s famous skyline, and a wall of chalkboard paint where students could share their dreams for their futures.
Eric and Kassndra's New City

I am definitely a person who loves art projects and seeing color added to any space, so I was excited to bAnna and the Chalkboarde involved. A few hours into the project, as I carefully tried to stay within the lines of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote I had been assigned to paint, I wondered if the kids would truly notice and appreciate the colorful additions and effort that were being put into making the school beautiful. Later, as we sat in the school’s auditorium for the closing ceremony, their football team arrived back from a game (they won!) and walked around the school to see all the new artwork. They were honestly amazed at what we had done for the school, and they were so excited! In that moment, I really was able to see what an impact we had made on the Lewis School and its students.

Theresa and the Paw Prints

The kids at this school will come to a different school on Monday than the one they left on Friday. Their new school is filled with art and color and quotes that capture the strength and diversity of the Austin community. And who knows, maybe these murals will inspire ]a student at the school to learn something new or want to paint a mural of their own? Regardless, Team Chicago was proud to be a part of something that will be a presence in the Lewis School of Excellence for years to come.

Team Chicago!