Not pictured: Jonathan Lykes | Photo by Kali Lindsey
About the Project
SUPPORTING EFFECTIVE INTERVENTIONS, ADVOCACY AND POLICY WORK ON BEHALF OF YOUNG BLACK MSM LEADERS
Voices of Young Black Men about HIV/AIDS
Convening June 14-16, 2015, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York, NY.
MAC AIDS Fund supported the Gender Health and Human Rights (GHHR) Program at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health to complete a thorough desk review and key informant interviews about the impact of the HIV epidemic on the Black Men who have Sex with Men (BMSM) community. The research looked at issues of stigma, social determinants of health, policing and incarceration trends, sexuality education models, community and provider perspectives, as well as barriers to leadership. The strongest recommendation coming from the research was the need to convene a group of YBMSM leaders in order to develop a coordinated advocacy and research agenda.
In response, the MAC AIDS Fund supported the GHHR Program and amFAR to convene a two-day meeting, held in June 2015, which brought together 25 YBMSM leaders from around the country to discuss the HIV/AIDS epidemic in their community and make strategic recommendations about investments needed to change current trends and increase the capacity of YBMSM to engage in advocacy work. The meeting had a relatively loose agenda with sections of the meeting allowing for participants to deviate from the traditional framework of critiquing the public health response to HIV among YBMSM and instead describe local models of success that could serve as potential strategies to overcome obstacles to research, policy, advocacy and leadership development.
CONVENING PARTICIPANTS: Joshua Agee, Guy Anthony, Devin Barrington-Ward, Micky Bradford, Amir Dixon, Brandon Dykes, Aquarius Gilmer, Noël Gordon, Sonia Haerizadeh, Tam Ho, Kalvin Leveille, Kali Lindsey, Jonathan Lykes, Gabriel Maldonado, Marreo McDonald, Terry McGovern, P.J. Moton, Valond Octave, Yolo Akili Robinson, Blake Rowley, Justin T. Rush, Lawrence Stallworth II, Marvell L. Terry, II, Darwin Thompson, DaShawn Usher, Francisco Luis White, Travis Wise, Corey Yarbrough
Joshua Agee, Jackson, Mississippi
“There are so many guys here with such great ideas—you know, policy and advocacy work—but the thing for me is to be a doctor. There’s a shortage of infectious disease doctors. There’s a shortage of black doctors in the United States. So, I really feel like that’s the best way for me to possibly help.”
Devin Barrington-Ward, Atlanta, Georgia
“…As a Black gay man who is within the target for the epidemic, I am a part of a constituency that is the number one population for new cases of HIV. In a city like Atlanta, Emory University came out with a study and showed that if you’re a Black gay man under the age of 30, you have a 60% chance of acquiring HIV before your 30th birthday…the numbers don’t lie.”
Micky Bradford, (right) Atlanta, Georgia
Amir Dixon, (left) Boston, Massachusetts
Bradford: “It’s not that young Black gay men don’t know how to take care of themselves and so end up seroconverting and becoming HIV+. It’s that they are taught from the top down to not value themselves. And so, if we can fight against that, that’s what will prevent HIV from becoming even further more of an epidemic.”
Dixon: “I view art as a liberating practice. I’ve always viewed art as a way of taking on the whole self, right? Art is like a great equalizer. I think it’s in those spaces when we start to unpack the feelings through art that we can make effective change. For a lot of queer folks, trans folks, folks of color, art is our safe haven, and I always want to make sure that in my activism that is center for me.”
Brandon Dykes, Nashville, Tennessee
“I became involved out of fear…it forced me to kind of get a better understanding, research things, find things, so that I could know and protect myself…it became a passion. Now I’m tasked with trying to figure out how to spread the same information and make it receptive to people so that they actually take the information so it’s not just like big textbooks or big things, but doing the different interventions that’s out there, trying to show them people that are doing it that are young, and are trying to help.”
Aquarius Gilmer, New York, New York
“…I’m an openly gay minister at a Baptist church that is primarily straight, and I see my work as dealing with, again, the psychosocial dynamics of persons,…getting them to see themselves as God sees them; helping them to understand that they are okay; and to dispel the myth that sins actually separate you from God. I have come to believe that there is no place that God is not…If more Black gay men understood that, that self-love is important…. I think that would be incredibly transformative for the movement.”
Kalvin Leveille, New York, New York
“When you’re talking about HIV we tend to focus a lot on the “V” which stands for “virus”, when we have to remember we also must focus on the “H” which is the human and how humans interact with each other. How being seen and being valued as a Black gay man is important when we’re talking about HIV.”
Kali Lindsey, Washington, D.C.
“I think the human rights conversation helps us recognize that everybody is worthy, and that we all must work together…. I graduated from college and I found out that I had acquired HIV. I became mobilized to really do something…to help information get out to everybody that was not getting access to it…I wanted to make sure that everybody had the tools that they needed to keep themselves healthy and safe and not transmit HIV to others.”
Marreo McDonald, Jackson, Mississippi
“That’s what we really deal with in the south, is family rejection and rejected in the church. I have friends…and associates…who have tested positive and they think that life is over. With me being educated about HIV,…I’m there with them to actually help them…because HIV is like a baby—like, it’s something else that you have to take care of other than yourself. And you have to make that baby a part of you, and you have to raise that baby…if you are (HIV) positive, approaches that you can take to stay healthy and live out your dreams.”
P.J. Moton, Dallas, Texas
“It’s my community, the Black same gender loving community, specifically with males, who are the largest disproportionately affected population in regards to HIV and AIDS, so I do understand that HIV/AIDS and its transmission is more than just condomless sex. It involves a number of social determinants and health…. what is it I can do to create change…what better way to change the world then to start with my own community, the Black male same gender loving community.”
Valond Octave, Houston, Texas
“Even though we fight for the MSM community, I feel like as an African American male I need to fight for the African American community. I never understood why I was always picked on. I also had close friends who were abused, they were incarcerated for made up reasons and I wanted to at least be a voice for those individuals. Whatever that looked like; I wanted to be at the table and be a voice for those people who could not make it to the table.”
Blake Rowley, Washington, D.C.
“Our stories for a long time have not been told and so a lot of what I’m interested in doing is elevating the platform of Black gay men to tell their story…. Young Black gay men, get out there, tell your story. You matter, you’re valuable, there’s always a community for you around, somewhere, even when you don’t feel like you may not have one.”
Justin T. Rush, Washington, D.C.
“Being born and raised in Columbus, Mississippi, in a place that is highly religious in a small town of 28,000 people, you don’t get much variations in viewpoints…. The things that I’ve had to experience…the things that I have gone through across my 29 years of life—they’ve been hard…you actually have the tools within yourself and within this community of people who are fighting for you every day—people that will hold your hand and help you walk through this process and this life.”
Darwin Thompson, Atlanta, Georgia
“…Both my parents are HIV+, and so, as a HIV male, HIV has always been around my family and my life. But then, more importantly, I grew up in foster care, so…I transitioned to…maybe 8-10 different foster homes between 2 months and 21. So, me not knowing where my next meal was coming from oftentimes, or me not really knowing where I was going to lay my head at, and so I’ve always wanted to work on these type of issues.”
Travis Wise, Washington, D.C.
“…When we talk about community, it’s really important that you foster a space where individuals feel comfortable…a space where individuals feel supported.” …When we talk about structural issues, lack of transportation, lack of jobs, homelessness—these are issues that are plaguing young Black gay men, and it’s impacting their health, because if I get diagnosed with HIV today but I don’t have a job; I don’t have a home—that pill is the last thing on my mind.”