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Black Youth and HIV Messaging

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Black Youth and HIV Messaging

by Dr. Fay Payton

Recently, I was asked by a group of Black male college students to present at one of their meetings to discuss HIV in the Black Community.  The topic directly aligns with the work of  www.myhealthimpactnetwork.org.  As the founding director of the @myhealthimpact brand, I am adamant that we remain supportive of a “for-student-by-student” strategy.  It is central to our creation of HIV/AIDS messages intended to reach the young and digitally connected generation.    

I did not start my presentation as a typical classroom lecture.  Rather, I offered a story – a real, factual account of my first experience with a family friend who was HIV positive in the 1980s.  My family friend was a Black male with a beautiful baritone voice.  We often called him the next Luther Vandross.  He was a gentle giant who deteriorated in size and spirit.  These students were not born during the time of my story’s events from over twenty-five years ago.   The students and I engaged in a frank discussion about the disease (HIV/AIDS), having a voice, how to use that voice and taking action.  In the stories, we talked about the statistics (in brief here):

  • Blacks represent 12 percent of the U.S. population.
  • Blacks account for 44 percent of all new HIV infections in 2009.
  • The rate of new AIDS diagnoses per 100,000 among Black adults was roughly 10 times that of whites in 2010.
  • The rate for Black men was 75.6 and the highest among all groups.  The rate among white men was 9.1.
  • Black women accounted for 57 percent of all new HIV infections among women in 2009.
  • Black teenagers represent 15 percent of the U.S. teens in 2010, but account for 70 percent of all new AIDS cases among their peers.

Using visuals to enhance our discussion, the “hmms” and “wows” heightened.  These moans were in unison like those from a Sunday sermon.  Pausing, I asked why and what caused such sharp reactions. As one young brother pointed out, “I do not have HIV or AIDS, but I hit each of the categories you mentioned.  I am Black.  I am a man.  I am young.”  Some added, “This is scary.” One young sister raised a salient question: “Are the numbers inflated on us because we are reported, and others may not be?”! I listened as a silence filled the room.  We discussed health services, disparities, using their voices and taking action.  I informed the students that silence and stigma are not solutions to the problem.  My example to them is demonstrated in one of my recent tweets about the AIDS Documentary, How to Survive a Plague.

Move from the scary to knowledge to action.  At myhealthimpactnetwork.org, we seek to provide a venue for an engaged community which provides knowledge, enables voice and encourages action.   Follow us on Twitter @myhealthimpact, and send us your tweets.  Post comments to our blog community.

There is critical overlap in the missions of The Black Youth Project and MyHealthImpact.  We share the idea that it is, in fact, the young Black people that are best position to share the messages and create social networks and movement to empower the what, when and how these messages impact this generation in the digital society.

What is your voice saying about HIV in the Black community? 

Let us hear from you.