(Pictured: Members of WE SPEAK, a program of Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition. Kymsha Henry (bottom left) is the Co-Director of YWCHAC, and Claire Simon (middle) is the chair of the YWCHAC steering committee)
February 7th is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), a national effort to encourage more HIV testing in the Black community, education about how HIV is spread, and advocacy around developing sound interventions that encourage more Blacks to get tested for HIV. National organizations, researchers, academic institutions, and local social service programs continue to provide more ways to encourage the Black community to not only get tested for HIV, but to also become more knowledgeable about ways to reduce HIV transmission, and where to go for treatment if one receives a positive test for HIV.
The biggest focus of NBHAAD is on testing. In many communities, along with the Black community, we often see individuals get tested, via blood testing or through testing the saliva using rapid tests like Oral Quick. While testing is always a bigger component to preventing the spread of HIV, it’s nothing if it’s not paired with education (including how the virus is spread as well as how it’s not spread, when someone as an AIDS diagnosis, and universal precautions to prevent infection) that empowers others to get tested, decrease the stigma of getting testing, and seeking treatment.
Many of these efforts are being led by young people, and especially young women of color, who care enough about their communities to make sure that their peers do not fall victim to HIV/AIDS. Through creative workshops, campus and community advocacy, social media, and entertainment, many young people are becoming the face of HIV activism.
Here are two youth-focused groups that hold a special place in my heart and are changing the way we look at HIV activism. Learn more about their effect in their communities and school campuses, and find out how you can support their efforts:
WE SPEAK: Women Empowered Support Protect Educate Advocate and Know (WE SPEAK) is the peer education and advocacy group of the Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition. Recognizing the increasing HIV rates of young women between the ages of 13-24, WE SPEAK members are empowering their peer to be HOV prevention advocates in their schools and communities through education, advocacy, media, and entertainment. WE SPEAK members facilitate workshops, conduct safer sex education parties, and one of the highlights of WE SPEAK is its annual Power of My Parts Film Festival, a great event that showcases New York City based and national short films with powerful messages for youth. WE SPEAK members are also instrumental in YWCHAC’s quarterly meetings held in New York City, inviting prominent voices in the fields of HIV, sexual wellness, mental wellness, and youth-focused agencies share their expertise on how adults can work with young people of color in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections as well as getting young people into treatment. You can follow YWCHAC on Facebook as well as make a donation.
(Pictured: Members of Advocates for Youth’s Young Women of Color Leadership Council)
Young Women of Color Leadership Council- The Young Women of Color Leadership Council (YWOCLC) is part of the young women of color initiative through Advocates for Youth. In response to the high rates of HIV and AIDS among young women of color, YWOCLC began in efforts to promote HIV prevention among young women of color and to build the next great youth leaders. YWOCLC is composed is young women of color from across the United States who come together to live out YWOCLC’s mission, which is to educate, include, and empower young women of color to become activists in HIV awareness. Many of YWOCLC’s members are young Black women who care a lot about making sure that their peers are educated and empowered to get tested. YWOCLC members present workshops at local and national conferences, meet with state and local lawmakers to advocate for more youth-centered advocacy in HIV prevention and comprehensive sex education, as well as establish local YWOCLC chapters on their campuses. You can follow YWOCLC on Amplify and make a donation to Advocates for Youth to support their young women of color initiatives.
These youth initiatives hold a special place in my heart for many reasons. When I first learned about YWCHAC and WE SPEAK, I jumped at the chance to offer my help to co-director Kymsha Henry. Also, I was a member of YWOCLC for several years during my college years, and it is through YWOCLC and Advocates for Youth that I truly began my HIV activism. These youth-focused groups are doing amazing things, for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and beyond.