1 in 5…. 1 in 5 people in the United States have HIV and do not know their status. AIDS is now the 3rd leading cause of death among black women ages 35-44 and currently 1 in 110 people in the world is infected with HIV. Currently 55 % of people living with HIV are not in care. It seems that young people are mostly infected by this illness and as such, it is probably fitting that they are the ones take a stand in the fight against HIV/AIDS through education and awareness of this silent killer. Since the early age of 15, Ryan Noelle Walker understood that in order to bring about the change that she wanted to see in her community of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she would have to enact that change. Forming the “Mother Wit” organization, she organized other young girls to promote heath advocacy for young women of color on issues such as HIV/AIDS. She is a part of the Young Women of Color Leadership Council (YWOCLC) which is a group of 22 young women from across the nation that correspond with each other to strategize effective ways to educate, include, and empower other women of color about HIV/AIDS awareness and reproductive health in their respective communities. They accomplish this while tackling related issues such as sexism, ageism, and classism. YWOCLC achieves their goals through workshops, community forums, blogs, media outreach, national awareness day events, and policy outreach including going to Capitol Hill to lobby to congressmen and women.
Through YWOCLC, Walker had the opportunity to visit various high schools and colleges to educate and demystify attendees about HIV/AIDS and how to protect one’s self from becoming infected. Because her audiences are typically young people, she utilized innovative and engaging activities to educate students. For instance, she organized a poetry slam, entitled Slam4Lyfe, for that the youngsters participated in and attended to express their views and new found knowledge about HIV and AIDS.
“More recently, I served as the Chair of A Week for Life, a programming board at the University of Miami that strives to educate the student body and surrounding community about HIV through various events, such as World AIDS Day, movie screenings, guest presenters, Sex on the Beach, Art Expo, and AIDS Walk Miami,” says Walker. Currently, Miami is the number 1 metropolitan area in the United States in terms of new cases of HIV and AIDS. Due to this staggering fact, she took the initiative to partner with the Florida Health Department to bring the Faces of HIV campaign to Miami on March 23rd. The Faces of HIV Campaign is a Mobile Art Exhibit that displays the lives of 15 Florida residents living with HIV through pictures, journals, and video in order to address stigma, the daily lives of people living with HIV, and their relationships with loved ones (partners, friends, and families).
In order to truly enact the change needed to bring about an atmosphere that truly believes that we can soon be in a generation free of HIV and AIDS, we must create dialogue amongst young people and educate the people on the facts about this disease; for the disease that goes hand in hand with HIV is stigma. Nobody can do this for us. Regardless of how far we step back in our efforts, we must utilize that time to strategize on how we will go about moving three steps forward. Even though currently 1 in 110 people worldwide are infected by HIV, I ask you… How many are affected? We all are affected by HIV. From children, mothers, brothers, uncles, fathers, and friends, we all have a similar goal in the interest of eradicating HIV from our vernacular. HIV does not care about your gender, ethnicity, political affiliation, or religion. HIV does not discriminate. We must first fight together to combat this disease and get more people to know their status. Remember, united we aspire, but only together may we truly achieve anything.
To learn more about Advocates for Youth, please go to: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/
To learn more about HIV statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention please go to: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/default.htm
To learn about SNMA’s current HIV/AIDS partnership with the Greater Than AIDS Campaign, please go to: http://jsnma.org/2012/01/snma-greater-than-aids-campaign/Jonathan Batson, Student National Medical Association Publications Committee Member
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