An AIDS-Free Generation
By Karamo Brown, NBJC Health & Wellness Ambassador
April 10 is National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD)—a day to remind our communities of the dramatic impact HIV and AIDS has on young people, especially African American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth who are most affected by this preventable disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1,000 young people (ages 13-24) are infected with HIV every month in our nation. In the African American community, HIV/AIDS is especially alarming as Black people represent the highest HIV infection rates in the United States across all demographics—including our youth.
Adding to this sobering reality, the CDC recently released a projection that half of all black gay men in our nation will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime if current rates persist. As black people, we must work together to end this epidemic, which disproportionately impacts our families. Stigma, homophobia or any other force that has hindered us from addressing HIV in our communities, with love, must end today.
In 2012, I met Lafayette Jackson, a young black gay man who had been recently diagnosed with HIV at the age of 20. He reflected on his experience with these words, “HIV took my life! I had no idea what I was going to do or if I was going to live. I had the knowledge, but it still happened to me.”
Lafayette’s perspective echoes the truth of a generation who has never known a world without HIV/AIDS, yet still bears the brunt of new HIV infections. To help end the stigma associated with and to curb the spread of HIV, there are simple and important things that each of us can do. Caring and concerned adults—especially parents and guardians—must have open, honest conversations with young people about sexual health. This should ensure first educating ourselves about critical information on where to get tested in our local communities and how to reduce the transmission of HIV with tools like PrEP—a once a day pill to prevent HIV. Finally, we must demand that all young people in our nation have access to comprehensive and evidence-based sexual health education, inclusive of LGBTQ students. When these practices become the standard in communities, especially communities of color, we will experience a dramatic change in the way HIV impacts our young people and our country.
Four years have passed since my initial conversation with Lafayette. Now, at 24, his perspective on his diagnosis has changed. “HIV now gives me perspective and a purpose I never knew existed,” said Lafayette. “As I learn more about the virus, I happily share the information with others. It’s important that we each do our part to disseminate the information.”
To support the learning and development of African American LGBTQ youth like Lafayette and the black community, in general, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans has partnered with the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) to host a White House Summit on African American LGBTQ Youth in June during Pride Month. The intent of the summit is to provide a platform for youth and those that serve them to share ways caring and concerned adults can ensure they are safe, supported and engaged, and to explore the needs of African American LGBTQ identified youth. The summit will highlight promising and proven strategies to provide inclusive and supportive environments in which LGBTQ youth can thrive. As NBJC’s Health and Wellness Ambassador, I look forward to working with youth during the summit. It is time for all of us to discuss tangible ways that we can support the health and wellness of African American LGBTQ youth and decrease the number of youth who contract HIV/AIDS. Additionally, I look forward to discussing programs, policies, and research that can advance the goal of an AIDS-free generation.
If the dream of an AIDS-Free Generation ever has the chance to become a reality, then young people, families and the greater community must all do our part to end this epidemic once and for all. It will take a village!
Karamo Brown was first introduced to the world in 2005 on the hit MTV reality series REAL WORLD, where he was a break-out star and became the first openly gay African American cast member in the history of reality TV. Now, as a television host and single parent of two teenage boys, Karamo employs his image and experiences to entertain and educate the masses. He is currently a contributing correspondent for CNN, writer for the Advocate.com, and cast member of TV’s One’s newest reality series The Next 15.
To learn more about the White House Summit on African American LGBTQ Youth in June, please visit: http://ow.ly/10scdf
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