Posts Tagged ‘USCA 2013’

ImageSo I know many of you have wondered where I’ve been.  Well, after a year phenomenal year of amazing events and opportunities that has opened up for PozLifeofPatrick and me.  These opportunities would not have happened without others seeing my potential and giving me a chance.

On December 18, 2012 I created the blog to chronicle my life living with HIV and to provide opportunities for others to lend their voices.  Being open with my status allows me to help educate others, break down stigma, and break the silence that so many of my positive brothers and sisters live in. Many living with HIV lay in silence because of the fear of stigma and discrimination based off of their status.  I have worked very hard and seen success in my mission to decrease stigma and increase understanding around this virus that affects so many.  On the other end of the very sharp double-edged sword I continue to see a lack of understanding and openness to HIV, even more prevalent in my dating life.   Call me strange or too young for love, but throughout this year I helplessly made myself vulnerable in an effort to try to find a significant person to be in my life.  As I approach a 2014 I can report and say that at this moment in time I am very much single; however, my priorities have changed.

Image  By being able to start my new career in the non-profit sector is where everything started.  I was able to interact with many individuals through community HIV outreach, education, and testing.  Also, working with NMAC with their Youth Initiative to End HIV/AIDS in America, and its HIV-positive Leadership Working Group of their National HIV Health Literacy and Wellness Initiative.  This year I was also given the opportunity featured alongside another fabulous HIV advocate, Guy Anthony on Blackmenrise.org where we talk about in more detail about our lives.  Through NMAC’s Youth Initiative I was able to travel to New Orleans, Louisiana for USCA 2013.   There I learned more about HIV and those who are affected by it, networked with so many different individuals and organizations, moderated a discussion on storytelling and HIV, made new allies/friends, and overall took away an amazing invaluable and indescribable experience.

Image            Throughout this year I was also able to be brought on as the Testing Coordinator to The Fredericksburg Area HIV/AIDS Support Services (FAHASS) where with the help of a dedicated prevention team helped to test, diagnose, and link more individuals to care then we ever have.  With being given a special grant called CAPUS, we will be able to reach more affected populations to educate, test, and link any individual who is HIV-positive into care.

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Also, I was featured alongside other youth in an MTV Staying Alive Documentary, “My Sex Life and Everyone Else’s.”  This

documentary may not have been rainbows and butterflies for me, but it gives me a stage to continue the dialogue of what it is like to live with HIV and deal with the struggle to get out of the stages of grief and guilt.  Looking back now I can honestly say that I am light years away from that time period in my life.

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           Other highlights of my year was running The Marine Corps Marathon and Anthem Richmond Marathon back-to-back, and helping to raise almost $20,000 for The Grassroots Project’s Team Grassroots.  Also, working with ACCESS AIDS in the Hampton Roads region to help further the discussion that needed to take place to people of color.

            There are many things that I can rant on about but I already feel like folks may think that I am being narcissistic; however, this is more about showing people that if I can do this in one year then why can’t you, a community, or a nation.  I have said it before but I am serious about making pozlifeofpatrick more about others in 2014.  I started the process of having my live show, PozLifeLive, where I bring on others to share their stories, experiences, and work for the world.  Also, by opening up my blog up for others to share it gives the opportunity to have an even greater experience when you visit my website or channel. Image

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As a student who is majoring in Sociocultural Anthropology, I can attest that I have read many ethnographic studies and sat through numerous lectures that support the argument that human cooperation fuels productivity and community development.  When people work together to establish a community, a majority of the time positive outcomes are achieved and goals are met.

We see more and more developing communities out there to promote positive behavior change in efforts to increase HIV prevention.  Can it work and is it working?  Let’s take a look.

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“It takes a village…” is a long old saying that you probably hear from your grandparents and parents today.  And yes, although it may be cliché to say, it is totally true!  Community-based organizations (CBOs) are in place for peoples to come together to achieve a common goal.  Let’s take a look at the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC).  NMAC is one of the largest non-profit HIV/AIDS advocacy groups that is dedicated towards helping minority groups gain access to HIV treatment and prevent HIV to those who are uninfected by increasing access to testing.  Let’s look at one of their programs in particular: The Youth Initiative to End HIV/AIDS in America Scholars Program.  This program hosts about 30 youth scholars per year to attend the U.S. States Conference on AIDS to increase their personal awareness about the pandemic and learn how to combat the pandemic in their own community with tools learned at the conference.   At the end of the conference, the scholars are expected to report back to NMAC every several weeks about their progress to help “End HIV/AIDS in America.”  This program is near and dear to my heart, as for I was selected as a 2013 Youth Scholar.  I am in constant contact with my fellow scholars as for we brainstorm new ideas and share networking opportunities to get involved with community-based organizations to ultimately help end the pandemic.  NMAC has created a community for us, which gives us the opportunities, and networks needed to create positive behavior change and increase HIV prevention.

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Left to Right: Victor Yang and myself at the U.S. Conference on AIDS in New Orleans, LA, September 2013

Our lab has conducted a study, called the Harnessing Online Peer Education (HOPE) study, in Peru last year to increase HIV prevention.  What is significant about the study is our creation of “peer leaders.”  These peer leaders were used to educate on HIV prevention and mentor the participants—who were also African American and/or Latino MSM.  Peer leaders had experience with community and social media outreach.  Peer leaders were trained on discussion and role playing exercises to integrate basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS, awareness of sociocultural HIV/AIDS issues in the age of technology, and communication methods for effective, interactive social media-based HIV prevention.

But mind you, there was no established social hierarchy.  That’s why we had the same population, just different responsibilities of each subpopulation (participants and peer leaders).  In this way, we created a community for MSM to promote healthy sexual behaviors amongst one another.

On the flip side, when we think of a community, is there always a positive connotation linked to it?  Not necessarily.  For example, what if a young fresh-out-the-closet young gay man from the Midwest (where the homosexual community isn’t the most prevalent) came to an urban center (L.A., New York, Atlanta, etc.) and joined the community of young gay men there.  We need to realize that the gay community in big urban centers has a high prevalence rate of substance abuse and HIV.  So in this case, would him joining the community be a positive thing?  No.  He would be very likely to try to fit in with the community and therefore be exposed to these negative behaviors.  How can we create more positive communities for the LGBTQ population?

What are your thoughts on community building and HIV prevention?  What does your CBO do to build communities?  Let us know by tweeting us @DigitalHBX or sending us a Facebook message at www.facebook.com/digiitalhbx

Derek Hernandez is an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles, with a major in Sociocultural Anthropology.  He is a Research Assistant at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine where he studies the behavioral aspects of HIV-positive men and researches new implementations of HIV prophylaxis via social media.  Derek is passionate about the dynamics of LGBTQ Healthcare and ensuring accessibility and retention of care for patients, especially HIV/AIDS patients.  He is notably proud for holding two Student Intern positions at UCLA Health System and currently at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he works alongside physicians and nurses to ensure patient safety and adherence to quality measures.  Derek plans to ultimately earn his Doctorate in Nursing Practice Degree and purse a career an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner.

Interested in guest blogging for Pozlifeofpatrick.com?  Send me an email at pozlifeofpatrick@gmail.com

So I landed in New Orleans around 11:30 am local time and was full of nervousness, anticipation, and a desire to complete my mission. My mission, which I chose to accept would be to represent people of my organization , NMAC’s Youth Initiative, and most importantly people living with HIV. My goals were to network, gain knowledge, and make connections that could help my community of Fredericksburg, VA and overall the increased number of people who are HIV Positive. You will notice for a first time I did not take any pictures of me on this trip. This is because attending this conference was not about me but more about the work that needed to be done. I was focused and ready to accomplish my mission. On the flight in I had already noticed so many of my friends and colleagues from the DMV area (DC, Maryland, Virginia) and was excited and relieved that I would know some people there.

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Arriving to the Hyatt Regency Conference Hotel I was amazed and thought to myself “wow USCA knows how to impress!” Arriving at the hotel I had made my way to the elevator and after ten minutes of trying to figure out how to operate it made my way up to my hotel room. While heading up to the room I turned around to the amazing view of The Superdome. It was gargantuan and a reality check that I had arrived. The room I was to reside in for four days was amazing. After spending the afternoon showering, grabbing lunch, and resting it was now time to head downstairs for the youth reception. It was there that I met amazing young people who had the same interest in ending this epidemic as I do. Words cannot describe the feelings of joy that I had being in a room with people who were also down for the cause. After that reception things just took off. From a dinner presentation about resilience from awesome plenary discussions about ending AIDS in the south, Perspectives on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), The Engagement Challenge, Personal stories surrounding HIV, and Implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Plenary sessions were

75925_10100476512901135_193260318_n1237426_509191059164700_2050760092_ogreat and I truly benefited from hearing personal stories. Mondo Guerra from Project Runway was present and took the time to speak and take pictures with us (thanks to Advocates For Youth for working to set that up). He thanked us for doing what we did and told us to stay vigilant in getting the word out and having those important conversations about HIV. What really shocked me was his persistence to stay and talk with us despite behind the scenes people trying to move him along. That spoke volumes on how big this opportunity was for me and the other scholars. I know Duane Cramer from our initial meeting at this year’s DC Black Pride; however, he continues to amaze through his friendliness and hard work.

The workshop sessions for me were the essential meat and potatoes of this conference. On the first official day of the conference I attended a session on Comprehensive Sexual Health Education as HIV Prevention, which was very interesting to be in. I had no idea that many states still only taught abstinence. I know that in my own high school career comprehensive sexual education was briefly mentioned while abstinence was more emphasized, but wow six years later and still no major moves. That was very disappointing to hear; however, we were told to reach out to our state representative and even the school board (which has huge power) to push for more comprehensive sexual education in our school systems. On day one we had a welcome to the whole Youth Initiative which went over roles, responsibilities, and expectations. This also allowed us additional time to get to know more about us and also what we were expecting from the conference. That session wrapped up day one and I spent the rest of the evening catching up on my homework which I was so behind on. IMG_1484

The start of day two went awesome. I awoke got ready for the day and made my way down to a very informal roundtable discussion for people living with HIV. The topic that was presented by the moderator Alex Garner of NMAC was “How do we bridge the intergenerational gap?” I was one of the very few young people in the room and I have to admit that I was so nervous and overwhelmed. In the room was Peter Staley, one of the original founding members of ACT UP New York, Oriol Gutierre of Poz.com and Poz Magazine, and Mark S. King successful creator of Myfabulousdisease.com and the web-series “The Real Poz Guys of Atlanta,” just to name a few. I was so humbled to be able to be in the presence of such great people. Most importantly I was able to listen to their stories, their wants, and most importantly their needs. What I got from this standing room only session was that many of the more experienced advocates were tired and were ready to pass on the torch to the next generation. Bear in mind many have been fighting the long hard battle for more than 30 years!! I also was given the floor to share my experiences and my thoughts, which I would have never imagined almost two years ago when I first learned my status. Peter Staley said something that really has and will continue to sit with me. He stated that it was depressing to see the HIV stigma among gay men. Every gay man who lives with HIV has experienced this before. It is heartbreaking to be treated differently from people in general let alone your own community. From the room I took away many connections and also support from strangers who turned quickly into my new extended family.

1017031_10200804696179231_2032299150_n The next session was one I was involved in. I was moderating a panel and audience discussion on Storytelling Using the Media & Cultural Arts. I was very honored that I was given the ability to moderate and lead this discussion as well as work alongside other intelligent and committed youth initiative scholars. The presentation went really well and we discussed how social media like Facebook ,Twitter, Blogging, and Vlogging can be effective tools in storytelling. Cultural arts are also very important. Taija, an Alaskan Native who was a panelist of this session shared with us how storytelling in her community is important. She shared a video with us, which served as a great example.

I also want to give a huge thanks to my other panelist Derek Hernandez and Felton Beeks who provided great feedback and knowledge surrounding social media tools that can be utilized. That evening we had the pleasure to meet Dr. Jack Whitescarver, Ph.D., NIH Associate Director for AIDS Research and Director, Office of AIDS Research. We all sat around informally as he told us the story on how he first was introduced to HIV/AIDS. It was very beneficial and I am greatly appreciative of the time Dr. Whitescarver took out to meet and talk with us.

On the morning of day three I attended a session on Engaging People Living with HIV in a Changing Environment. I am not going to lie I was a little late to the session due to engaging and networking with someone who is a fan of the pozlife stopping me (networking happens often in spaces like this). I slide into the session to notice my colleague Venton Jones of The National Black Gay Mens Advocacy Coalition on the panel of the discussion. My work doing the pozlifeofpatrick was highlighted by Venton and he asked me to tell everyone in the room about my story. So I quickly gave a synopsis of how I found out my status and why I created the blog (for you!) and before I knew it I was being followed by AIDS.GOV, the amazing Josh Robbins of Imstilljosh.com! A huge thank you to Venton Jones for giving me that opportunity to discuss the pozlifeofpatrick and the effectiveness it has been in engaging both HIV Positive and Negative individuals. In the afternoon I attended two sessions on Strategizing and Mobilizing to End the Epidemic and another session on PrEP Messaging. Both sessions had participation by youth initiative scholars and I was gaining so much knowledge from the points that were discussed. I particularly loved the discussion about PrEP. Start talking about innovations and expanding the prevention toolbox and I am there! It was a great discussion which really focused on the importance of PrEP and the role it will play going into the future in regards to decreasing new infections of HIV.

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On day four all the youth initiative scholars met and we closed out the session. I attended the lunch plenary session but left early to prepare to depart for the airport. For me it was a bittersweet moment. I have never really been to a summer camp I actually enjoyed; however, for four days I felt as if I was on top of the world. Where else but at my first USCA conference was I able to network with so many movers and shakers in the field of HIV, but most importantly be surrounded by like-mined young people who will be alongside me to take the torch and continue the fight. On my flight back I tried to think about what I really enjoyed about The U.S. Conference On AIDS overall and I would have to say outside of the sessions it had to be the people. For me it was fantastic interacting with such great people. From Paul Kawata, Executive Director of NMAC spending as much time as he could around the youth initiative scholars to the NMAC staff providing guidance and a very unofficial form of mentorship throughout this entire process. To Viiv Healthcare for having fantastic people speaking and engaging with us. Also, the Magic Johnson Foundation for being apart of the process and speaking on the last day about the importance of what we are doing as future leaders in our communities. Over a huge thank you to The National Minority AIDS Council for creating this initiative for me to be apart of. USCA 2013 had other major sponsors that helped to create an event of a lifetime for me. 1270341_509194375831035_858202610_o

I am already in the planning stages to attend USCA 2014 in San Diego, California and am excited to be apart of that conference. I know that more work has to be done to improve the treatment cascade so that more individuals living with HIV have undetectable viral loads. That takes place by having more prevention with people living with HIV. It is important to engage the community and getting them involved in the fight against HIV. Also, that ACA is right around the corner and will transport healthcare to a new destination we have never seen before. Leaving USCA 2013 I know that many understand the importance of PrEP to help reduce HIV transmissions. At the next conference I will be sure to bring empty luggage so I can take as many things as possible from the exhibition area. I appreciated the condoms, lube, pamphlets, posters, and other things that can be distributed in my community that needs these resources. I will always keep the youth initiative scholars of 2013 very close to me. In four days I developed friendships and camaraderie with these special young people I know I will be working with closely in the future.

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