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Black Voices: Youth Voices and Social Media Matter

Anthony Roberts, Jr.

Anthony Roberts, Jr.

Last year, I attended the 16th Viiv Healthcare Community Summit on HIV and joined 29 others as a participant in their first Youth Summit in Miami, FL. I was ecstatic to be surrounded by other 18-29 year olds from all across the United States. We were all of different ages, races, and life experiences but shared a common goal – an AIDS-free generation. It was refreshing to see that there are others, like myself, who are actively participating in ensuring that this dream will one day come to fruition.

Youth and young adults can play a key role in ending the epidemic and so often understand the reach of social media. Some organizations may be unsure about placing youth/young adults in visible leadership positions, or how to engage their potential and tap their social media skills. Youth can help your organization’s social media strategies by:

Anthony Roberts Jr., Ederick Johnson, Patrick Ingram at Viiv Youth Summit, Miami, 2014.

Anthony Roberts Jr., Ederick Johnson, Patrick Ingram at Viiv Youth Summit, Miami, 2014.

1. Youth are using new media. Youth are the highest users of social media and therefore possess more expanded social networks than any other age group. One recent survey found that 92% percent of teens report going online daily Exit Disclaimer — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.” This reveals that using traditional marketing mediums (radio, print, TV, billboards) alone may not be enough to reach young people. The shift in new media technology is an opportunity to refine and refresh your organization’s HIV outreach and awareness strategy to include social and new media platforms.

2. Youth trust each other. “My peers’ opinions and views on health-related issues matter to me more because these are people who I identify with… when connecting with my peers I don’t worry about being judged and, because of this, I’m more likely to trust them than adults,” says 27-year-old Ricardo Midas Wynn, from Milwaukee, WI. Ricardo shares the thoughts many people, including youth, have about how we obtain information from those we trust. According to research by Nielsen, 92 percent of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of marketingExit Disclaimer This supports the idea that peer-to-peer youth outreach and awareness strategies/tactics are effective ways to reach this demographic.

3. Great things can happen when we involve youth. I’m a firm believer in youth-led, adult-supported initiatives and proud to have taken part in so many of them. I thank the many adults who have believed that my peers and I were able to effectively create change and make an impact in the world around us. Examples of some youth-led, adult supported programs in the U.S. focusing on ending the HIV-epidemic include: Campaign to End AIDS Youth Caucus, Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative, and many others. (And they are all using social media!)

4. Youth are significantly affected by HIV.  According to the CDC, over 50% of youth with HIV in the United States do not know they are infected. In addition, in 2010, young gay and bisexual men (13-24 years of age)  accounted for an estimated 19% (8,800) of all new HIV infections in the United States and 72% of new HIV infections among youth. We can use peer-to-peer intervention initiatives to encourage young adults to be aware of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and safer sex practices.

5. Youth are the leaders of tomorrow. Youth will eventually serve in positions of power and influence in this country. Embracing youth in positions of leadership shows your commitment to the community-at-large. It allows older, experienced staff  to serve as professional mentors to youth and help them succeed. These leadership positions equip them with the tools necessary to successfully pick up the torch and continue efforts to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S.

If you are a youth or young MSM adult, why do you feel that your voice is vital in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the United States? If you are a member of an AIDS Service Organization, what is your organization doing to give youth a voice in your HIV/AIDS programming?

Read this Viiv healthcare – Positive Action MSM Youth Engagement Initiative Announcement and apply by July 24, 2015: – The Positive Action MSM Youth Engagement Initiative, is new project to address critical gaps in culturally appropriate and innovative communication methods that engage and empower hard-to-reach young Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) in the United States.