February 5, 2019 - National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
By Manny Segal, member of the ATN's Youth Experts and Advocates for Health (ATN-YEAH)
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is on Thursday, February 7th. To some people, it’s just another day; to other people it’s a day of hope, that one day, everyone will understand the impact of HIV/AIDS on African American communities, especially youth. I want to use my own story as an example of HIV awareness and subsequent activism. I am a 25-year-old, gay, African American man. I was adopted at 4 months old into a mixed religion and cultured family consisting of both Black and White ethnicity as well as Christian and Jewish religious beliefs. I was raised mostly by my mom and grew up with two other sisters in my household. Both sides of my family were very conservative and being gay was a part of my life that I sheltered until adulthood.
Upon graduating from high school, I moved from California where I lived with my mom to Baltimore alone. At that point in my life, I was just coming out as gay and living on my own in Baltimore city. I was young, adventurous, and somewhat clueless about HIV as well as other things. Like many young African American gay men at the time, I had an online dating/chat app. To my surprise, a nice young gentleman from Johns Hopkins University, messaged me. He explained to me that he worked for a study called “PrEP” (which stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). Knowledge is truly power. Given my gender and ethnicity, I was educated to the fact that I had a statistically high chance of becoming HIV infected if I did not become knowledgeable about HIV. Because the gentleman from Johns Hopkins University reached out to me and told me about the study, he was not only helping the university with important research, but also educating me about HIV and the correlation between HIV and AIDS; which is sometimes perceived as the same. For the first time in my life, I was made aware of HIV and the impact it has had on the lives of African American youth.
Countless African American youth have simply never had a chance or opportunity to learn about HIV/AIDS. I didn’t. I never talked to my family about the risk of HIV or even had conversations regarding my sexual orientation for fear of rejection. To this day, I wonder where I would be had I not been messaged and been involved in a study and subsequent programs. Now, I am member of ATN YEAH and the Scale It Up Youth Community Advisory Board (YCAB), which are wonderful educational experiences. So, “How do we spread HIV/AIDS awareness to youth for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day?” Through community events, testimonials, and by just living life and providing education. I have the greatest appreciation for Johns Hopkins University, the ATN, and everyone working in the field of HIV/AIDS. I am honored to be a part of transformative research that is inclusive of African American youth. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is not just another day, it’s a day to learn about a population of youth being significant impacted by HIV/AIDS.
For more about National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, visit hiv.gov.