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Advocates at the IAC: The Week in Review

We have just wrapped up our work at the XIX International AIDS Conference (IAC) and wanted to share what an exciting couple of weeks it has been!  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UNAIDS Director Michael Sidibe, and many celebrities all made appearances; the conference was a constant bustle of activity, as high level meetings, workshops, receptions, fundraisers, and protests went on throughout.  An overarching theme of the conference was a call to join together, muster the political will, and pool our resources to end the epidemic.

Advocates participated extensively in the IAC.  From organizing the Youth PreConference, to recruiting volunteers and cosponsoring  the opening  ceremony of the AIDS Quilt on the National Mall, to sharing expertise and elevating the voices and experiences of young people on multiple panels and workshops.  Staff and youth activists worked tirelessly to ensure young people’s meaningful participation at the Conference. 

The week culminated in Advocates spearheading an effort by more than 15 coalition partners to create National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day and calling on President Obama, Congress, and HHS to formally recognize the day and demonstrate the political will necessary to ensure all young people’s rights to the sexual health education and services that can help them protect their health and save their lives.  

Hear more about our IAC activities after the jump! 

PRE-CONFERENCE

Movement Building with YouthForce:  As a founding member of YouthForce, a coalition of youth organizations from around the world, Advocates has historically taken a lead role in organizing a pre-conference for youth attending the International AIDS Conference.  This year, Advocates again helped organize the pre-conference, taking lead on fundraising and logistics and co-chairing the pre-conference committee. More than 130 youth activists from around the world gathered for the three-day meeting.   Advocates’ iYAN Program Manager Mimi Melles was actively involved in all aspects of the Pre-Conference and noted:

“Never before have we had so many young people from around the world attend an international conference, let alone the youth pre-conference. In three days, young people came together to train each other on a wide range of issues and skills in the context of HIV, and mobilize the YouthForce campaign emphasizing the importance of access, partnerships and equality for young people.

“Young people bring a fresh perspective to the HIV response, fueled by passion and creativity,” said Mimi. “We are innovators and change-makers, and without our meaningful involvement, we will never be able to achieve our targets of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.”

The YouthForce activists and leaders collaborated to create the YouthForce Declaration - a document that details the policy and programmatic demands of youth in the global response to HIV and AIDS. Powered by codigital, the YouthForce Declaration project allowed participants to submit, edit, and vote on ideas in realtime.  See the ten highest voted ideas here (Pictured at left: Members of YouthForce with Michael Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director)

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Celebration and Resolve at the Youth Reception:  The Youth Reception was the official event welcoming young people to the IAC.  Organized by Advocates and co-hosted by Red Hot, Act V, and Advocates for Youth, the event served to recognize the importance of youth leadership in the global response to HIV and AIDS, celebrate their achievements, and honor the YouthForce.  The joyful and energetic party featured musical performances from The Voice star Jamar Rogers and DJ Mister Saturday Night. 

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At the Youth Reception, Advocatesyouth activists announced the creation of — and called on the U.S. government to officially recognize — National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day.  Lawrence Stallworth, one of Advocates’ activists from OH spoke at the reception about the need for involving and prioritizing young people:

 

When I was 17 years old, I found out I was HIV-positive. I know first-hand what it feels like to face discrimination from peers and even from my teachers. I remember the fear of rejection, and the incredible love and support I found among my family and friends. I had to face the stark choice between continuing to receive government support for my HIV medication, or taking a new job where my health care wouldn't cover my treatment because HIV was considered a preexisting condition. As a young, Black gay man, this is my story.

In fact, in the United States a young black gay man has nearly a one in four chance of becoming infected by age 25. I am only one of the many diverse faces of HIV. Around the world, young people make up 40 percent of new HIV infections. Despite these harsh realities, young people are taking extraordinary measures to stem the tide of HIV and AIDS and are determined to end this pandemic once and for all. Since the day I first learned my HIV status, I have made it my personal responsibility to fight this disease until we reach an AIDS-free generation. I know many young people out there feel the same.

The creation of National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day is a momentous step towards acknowledging and addressing the needs of young people in the HIV and AIDS response. Each year, young activists in high schools an  d at universities across the country will use this day to organize and educate about HIV and AIDS. They will promote HIV testing, fight stigma and start the necessary and uncomfortable conversations we need to deal honestly and effectively with the challenges we face. Perhaps most importantly, it will provide a recurring, yearly date for young activists to hold our leaders accountable for their commitment to, and investment in, truly realizing an AIDS-free generation. Here is video of the announcement.

Sports, Music, and Information at YouthScore:  Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), joined US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Advocates for Youth, and others in launching YouthScore—a series of events which used sports, music and art to connect young people to the information they need to protect themselves and others from HIV.  “Young people are among the most vulnerable to new HIV infections, but their calls for support are too often not heard," said Michel Sidibé. “This must change as this is the generation that will help bring us to our vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.”

The YouthScore launch event brought together young people from Washington DC and across the world to share their experiences in stopping AIDS. It attracted more than 200 young people who came out to participate in workshops and clinics with sports figures, musicans, and artists.

 

AIDS MEMORIAL QUILT

Creating AIDS Quilt Panels at Youth Craft Night:  Advocates’ staff organized a craft night during the YouthForce Pre-Conference to inspire the young participants.  Youth activists from around the world worked with Chris Locklear from the Names Project to create panels for the AIDS Memorial Quilt.  Young people identified family members and friends lost to the disease and other activists worked with them to create five panels which were then taken to the National Mall to be displayed with the AIDS Quilt.  

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Unfurling the AIDS Quilt: On the Saturday before the AIDS Conference officially opened, the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, one of the most prominent symbols of the global response, was unveiled across the metropolitan DC area.  UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador Annie Lennox joined the NAMES Project Foundation, several high-level personalities and activists at the unveiling ceremony at the Mall.

Advocates for Youth took point on recruiting hundreds of youth volunteers to assist in unfurling the quilt.  Advocates’ Will Neville helped write the inspiring opening , calling for a  passing of the torch to a new generation of youth leaders ready and willing to fight for the end of the pandemic.  And Advocates’ very own Trina Scott spoke at the event.  Hundreds of youth and youth allies turned out despite a steady rain. 

Kate Stewart attended the event with her family, observing:  “As I held my daughters’ hands and we looked at the Quilt, I found myself thinking that the past, present and future are all around us.  We are here to remember those we have lost… ” Full blog.

 

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“From Darkness to Light”: An Interfaith Service of Hope and Commitment: This interfaith service of worship called upon us to remember those we have lost and those who continue in the struggle to live with dignity and worth in the face of HIV/AIDS. Throughout the service faith leaders and faithful persons from around the world gave witness to the faith that has supported them in their journeys.  Durryle Brooks,  Program Manager for GLBTQ Health and Rights, participated at the service that took place at the National Cathedral.

THE CONFERENCE

Advocates for Youth and Red Cross Satellite Session: Youth Leadership in the HIV Response: Realities and Recommendations for Programming and Advocacy

This satellite session, sponsored by the Red Cross and Advocates for Youth, provided an opportunity to discuss youth leadership by those who are HIV positive or working with most at risk populations across the world. The session highlighted the stories of youth living with HIV as strong advocates and leaders within their country and on the international sphere.  Advocates’ activists Helena,  from Namibia, and Lawrence  from Ohio, both HIV positive youth activists, shared their stories of coming to terms with their diagnosis and going on to become advocates, and gave insight into what young people need both to become leaders and to benefit from HIV prevention programming.

Helena:  “Young people living with HIV face discrimination  and stigma all over the world.  We need to hold hands strongly together to reach zero discrimination.”  Lawrence:  “Adults tend to write off young people.  We need meaningful engagement, not tokenism.  Ask yourselves:  will I take the path that is easy – or the path that is right?”

Advocates’ Panel Session:  Young People Leading the Fight Against HIV/AIDS - US and Global Perspectives on How to Make a Difference

The panel was moderated by Ronnie Cho, President Obama’s Liaison to Young Americans, and featured Advocates’ youth activists Kike (International Youth Speak Out); Ernesto (YouthResource); Karachi (Young Women of Color Leadership Council); Falin (International Youth Leadership Countil), and Lawrence (Cultural Advocacy and Mobilization, Ohio).  The panel was joined by Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

 

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Ian O’Brien, Youth Activist Network Coordinator, blogged about the event:

 

Ronnie Cho, opened with a reaffirmation the President's commitment to seeing an AIDS Free Generation and the belief that change “does not come from the top down, but from the bottom up.”

Well, the bottom is causing a ruckus, and they are ready for the top to start paying attention. These five youth described the incredible work they and their peers are doing.

“When the media isn't talking about young people, young people are creating these stories for themselves.” 
Ernesto spoke about the role of social media in youth movements, and his work at the Cascade AIDS Project in Oregon. Ernesto talked about the innovation of young people in using tools like facebook and twitter to organize efforts to disseminate information and resources in unconventional routes to avoid suppression by adults, citing a particular instance of condom distribution at a college campus. He also mentioned Advocates for Youth’s recent call for a Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day and how young people were integrated into the process. “What was awesome about this message was that instead of sending out a press release, it was announced at a small venue full of young people. And then young people started sending out this message, tweeting about it, posting on Facebook.”

 

“So you can get busy living or you can get busy dying.” Lawrence Stallworth opened with a quote from The Shawshank Redemption that he said convinced him to start doing activist work after he learned he was HIV positive. Lawrence works with AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland in Ohio where he serves as an Outreach Coordinator and Educator. Lawrence spoke of the importance of continuing to voice the stories of young people to policy makers and invested organizations in order to make sure that youth's issues are not being pushed to the side. He challenged the audience: “If they aren't hearing from us, how are they going to make things better?”

Talking about the Red Card Project in her home country of Nigeria, 
Kikelomo Taiwo mentioned the current successes that youth have had with local policy makers. By connecting and mobilizing young people and strategically reaching out to key stakeholders, The Red Card Project has been able to make sure that fighting stigma against HIV/AIDS is present in the minds of policy makers. Kike also spoke about how helpful her work with the International Youth Speak Out Project and the Red Card Project have been in helping her find her own voice and take hold of her life, and how doing so has helped her to inspire others.“The moment you decide to break out of your silence, you are setting the stage for others to follow.

Falin Patel spoke about his work on Advocate's for Youth International Youth Leadership Council in DC and the role youth play in domestic and international lobbying efforts. “Being given the chance to see the documents and processes behind these policies first hand helps secure my understanding of what is being done and where I fit in” Falin recounted about his experiences lobbying both the United Nations and United States Congress. Falin drove the point that it was necessary for youth to be a major part of policy efforts. “40% of new HIV infections occur in young people under 25. Young people should be involved when these decisions are being made.” 

Karachi's note at the end of presentation rang particularly insightful in efforts to mobilize young people towards activism: “No one should feel like they can't do anything. If you have spoken out against HIV/AIDS, you are an activist.”

Jamaican Partner Featured at Poster Session: Advocates' partner, Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN) presented some of the work the two organizations have done together on a poster titled, ""Youth advocating on behalf of youth: Championing the movement of youth participation and inclusion within the national HIV/AIDS response in Jamaica," highlighting the council's advocacy efforts towards achieving comprehensive sex education and meaningful youth participation on decision bodies related to adolescent sexual and reproductive health. The poster highlighted the council's activities both at the national and international levels, along with challenges and lessons learned. 

 

Advocates at the Global VillageThe atmosphere was lively at the Advocates for Youth display booth, located just outside the Youth Pavilion in the Global Village.   Conference attendees of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds dropped by to chat, take photos, and “spin the wheel” and answer a question about HIV for a chance to win a prize t-shirt or totebag.  Some spoke of living with the disease for decades, while others were learning about HIV and AIDS for the first time as a part of community service.  Filling out signs that asked what young people need to end the epidemic,  attendees named “Access,” “Condoms,” “Respect,” and “Love,” among many others!

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Selected Press Coverage

Youth Activism at AIDS2012: Leading the Way to an AIDS-Free Generation (RH Reality Check; by Debra Hauser)

National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day (Huffington Post; by Lawrence Stallworth)

More teens using condoms over past two decades (AP)

Jamar Rogers Shares His Fight Against HIV (NBC)

Annie Lennox, UNAIDS head speak at AIDS Memorial Quilt opening ceremony (Washington Blade)

Young people to put themselves at the heart of AIDS 2012 (UNAIDS)

THE 3-MINUTE INTERVIEW: Mimi Melles (Washington Examiner)

Cleveland student shares his story about living with HIV at the International AIDS Conference (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

 
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