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Black Voices: Youth-Focused Digital Outreach with Greater Than AIDS

#SpeakOutHIV Exit Disclaimer is an LGBTQ youth-focused campaign from Greater Than AIDS Exit Disclaimer that emphasizes conversations around relationships, healthcare, and community; it’s a dialogue geared toward eradicating stigma, and it’s driven by the power of digital stories and social media platforms such as YouTube Exit Disclaimer, Facebook Exit Disclaimer, and Twitter Exit Disclaimer. This campaign is so important because between 2008-2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted a 22% increase in new infections among gay men ages 13-24. This makes #SpeakOutHIV’s focus on youth that much more critical and increases its potential impact.

I have been working with Greater Than AIDS Exit Disclaimer as a facilitator and an Ambassador for their latest campaign, Speak Out Exit Disclaimer. The work first began for me with our national cohort of youth ambassadors in the fall of 2014, when 25 young gay and bisexual men from all across the country – predominantly of color, some HIV positive, most not — came to our nation’s capital for a three-day digital storytelling workshop organized by the Kaiser Family Foundation in partnership with the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, AIDS United, and the Black AIDS Institute. It was a weekend dedicated to honing the craft of shaping a story, and my particular role for the weekend was to help guide these young minds through the process of activating their truths. Many came from communities poor in resources, with high HIV infection rates. Some were HIV positive, most were not. A large portion of the cohort had never been asked to share their stories or their voices. And most didn’t know they had a voice to share.

Workshop Goals

The goals for the workshop were to: broaden the youth Ambassadors knowledge of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; teach them technical skills to aid them in recording their own personal stories; and give them a working knowledge of how to utilize social media as a means not only for circulating their messages but for HIV education in general. We were positioning each of them to be a resource-hub that many of their respective communities lack.

The weekend was powerful. Some participants had approached the workshop setting very jovially, with few expectations, while others were reserved and quiet, and you couldn’t quite tell what they were thinking. But it was evident—no matter their temperament, or whether it was a façade or not—that every individual in that room had something that he needed to share, even when most thought they did not.

The Power of Digital Storytelling

Storytelling has a unique way of leveraging a community’s understanding of its members and the challenges that they collectively face. As a digital storyteller who uses social media as a means to educate and foster connections, I know how important it is to find yourself in your truth and a home in story. In my experience, the community that I’ve created by being so open and vulnerable is one that has been willing to find and accept its own truths to share.

So before the end of the weekend, the young minds of our national cohort gave each other language to exist beyond the workshop. The campaign and I have since been to other cities, and, as we continue this work across the country, I dare you to watch and share the video above. I also challenge you to create your own personal message of why it’s important for you to #SpeakOutHIV! Don’t forget to use the hashtag in all your promotions.