This September, I had the opportunity to attend the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) as a Youth Scholar under the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) Youth Initiative to END the HIV/AIDS epidemic in America. This annual conference brings leaders from all over the nation as well as representatives from many organizations like NMAC, ViiV Healthcare, Magic Johnson Foundation and Advocates for Youth. Paul Kawata, Executive Director of NMAC, emphasized the importance of our generation stepping into the roles that he and many others before us have been working towards; building awareness and educating our communities all while searching for a cure. His address emphasized on his message about passing the baton to the new generation of leaders. I felt empowered and ready to absorb the knowledge before me.
At the plenary luncheon we heard from Chris Richey, Founder & President of The Stigma Project, where their mission projects being HIV Neutral, a mindset that I believe, we as a community should begin to assume. Unless HIV positive and HIV negative individuals join forces to become HIV neutral, the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS will remain. As the conference transpired, eradicating stigma became a common topic as well as early testing, prevention strategies, and how as youth scholars we can impact our communities. During youth sessions we discussed the need for our communities to include the frequently forgotten populations, such as the transgender community, heterosexual community and youth. It was here that we collectively agreed that our efforts cannot be furthered without the help of those leaders that came before us.
I walked away from USCA with a better understanding of how my role as a youth scholar and social worker can serve as an agent of change in ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I’m excited about the knowledge I have acquired on how to effectively promote action in my community. Action that can be performed through the simplest of ways, utilizing the tools of my generation, for example social media, which serves as a platform for unification and awareness for ALL populations. As a part of my commitment to ending this disease, I now challenge you to reflect on your role in ending the epidemic and how YOU can take action in your community.
Patrice Huntley is an HIV Case Manager at Compass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org