8 Things You Can Do To Empower Young People This National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Today is the 3rd National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day — a meaningful day for us as an adolescent health educator and feminist youth worker. But we weren't always as aware or passionate about educating young adults about safe sex and, today, we are reminded of the experiences that led us to this work.
It started at 17, when I (Brittany) was asked by an educator if I was at risk for HIV. I shrugged and confidently replied, “Of course not!” Little did I know that I was. I'd had unprotected sex before because I didn't have adequate knowledge about safe sex at the time. I got tested for the first time that day and it truly changed my life. Getting tested gave me the power to feel and be autonomous: I made a healthy decision about my life.
When I started college, HIV/AIDS was one of the leading causes of death for young Black women in the United States. While studying at Syracuse University, I met Kimberly Huggins — a fellow Brooklynite who has passionately educated others about safe sex ever since she lost her uncle to HIV. She became aware of this work in her freshman year, after her college RA deemed her the "condom queen" of her floor — meaning she became the go-to person for her floor mates in search of condoms. At first, she worried what people would think of her if they saw a bag full of condoms in her room, but then it hit her: Who cares what they may or may not think? She was simply a young, proactive woman making sure that she was protecting herself as well as members of her community.
We began our life-long commitment to sexual health education, advocacy and reproductive justice while working together with the student-run organization Sex S.Y.M.B.A.L.S. (Sexually conscious, youthful, mature, black and latino students). The group is committed to curtailing the spread of HIV and STDs, preventing sexual violence and promoting healthy sexual decisions and our experience there taught us a lot about young people's attitudes towards and behaviors surrounding safe sex.
At one of our Sex S.Y.M.B.A.L.S. events, for example, we asked if anyone had a condom on their person. Not a single person raised their hand. In fact, many of the women in attendance defended that choice. “It’s not my responsibility to carry a condom!” they said. Or, “If a woman carries a condom, shes preparing to have sex and shes way too ready!”
Kimberly and I looked at each other in awe and knew we had serious work to do. We stressed the importance of both men and women carrying condoms and how we needed to empower women who take a bold stance in being the person responsible for their sexual health.
Today, we are reminded of experiences like these and why it's so necessary to work towards creating a society in which the health and education of young people is prioritized. Here are some things that you can do to support this goal:
- Create open, honest, and supportive spaces for young people to talk about sex and HIV. Young people need a person that they can depend on to keep it real with them. We need to create spaces that encourage healthy sexual health inquiry and not ones that silence our voices.
- Shirk expectations about age and realize young people can be experts on their own lives! We can only envision an AIDS-free generation if young people are included in the conversation. Young people need to advocate for leading roles in the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs that impact our lives.
- Advocate for better education. We need culturally-relevant, medically accurate, and comprehensive sexuality education in our schools and in our communities.
- Utilize social media or Socialize and Prioritize. Social media is a great way to build communities and share ideas.
- Let’s get factual. It is important that we are informed about facts and equipped with appropriate knowledge in order to live a sexually conscious and healthy life!
- Lions, tigers and condoms. Oh my! Always use condoms and have one handy. It is better to be prepared and safe then unprepared and at risk.
- Testing 1, 2, 3! Know your status, get tested! To find the nearest testing site near you, text your zip code to “KNOWIT (566948). Standard texting rates apply.
- Fight stigma! HIV is not a disease about the person. It is a disease about behavior. Any risk behavior no matter who you are puts you at risk for HIV. It is important to remember that the HIV of today is not the HIV of the early 80s. HIV is now a chronic and manageable disease with advanced medical treatments. Let us work together to create a safe space for people and allies living with HIV.
For more information on National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day, check out: http://amplifyyourvoice.org/nyhaad.
Join us on for National Youth HIV and AIDS Day by tweeting about what young people need and what you can do to reach an #AIDSfreegeneration using the hastag #NYHAAD15
More articles by Category: Education, Feminism, Health
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Title IX, Sex education, Reproductive rights, HIV/AIDS