New HIV pro­gram

Youth, elected of­fi­cials team up

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

There’s an HIV prob­lem in At­lanta, es­pe­cially among youth, and the Equal­ity Foun­da­tion of Ge­or­gia (the ed­u­ca­tion, train­ing and anal­y­sis arm of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity) is tak­ing it on by in­tro­duc­ing a unique new pro­gram.

The Youth HIV Pol­icy Ad­vi­sors Pro­gram matches elected of­fi­cials and clergy with HIV-pos­i­tive youth ad­vo­cates who will serve as their spe­cial ad­vi­sors on the is­sue. The youth will work one-on-one with the of­fi­cials and clergy to ad­dress pol­icy bar­ri­ers to HIV pre­ven­tion.

“There are thou­sands of youth living with HIV in At­lanta, but not re­ally a con­sol­i­dated move­ment to bring them to­gether to cen­ter HIV pre­ven­tion and ad­vo­cacy,” says Emily Brown, field or­ga­nizer for Ge­or­gia Equal­ity and the co­or­di­na­tor of the Youth HIV Pol­icy Ad­vi­sors Pro­gram.

The pro­gram, which Brown says has an es­ti­mated bud­get of $20,000, will of­fer train­ing to the youth ad­vo­cates through a se­ries of sum­mer ses­sions, fol­lowed by ed­u­ca­tional ses­sions with the elected of­fi­cials and clergy in the fall and cul­mi­nat­ing on World AIDS Day on De­cem­ber 1 with the sec­ond an­nual World AIDS Day At­lanta Pol­icy & Ac­tion Lun­cheon.

“We will have the youth ad­vis­ers rolling out their pol­icy agenda. There will be 100-plus elected of­fi­cials, com­mu­nity mem­bers, clergy and CEOs of large health­care foun­da­tions in at­ten­dance. So that will kick-start the 2016 leg­isla­tive ses­sion with re­ally clear poli­cies for leg­is­la­tors so they have HIV on their mind and know what to do about it once they get started,” Brown says. “We’re look­ing to cre­ate cham­pi­ons within their leg­isla­tive bod­ies.”

Those cham­pi­ons ap­pear to be needed now more than ever, as wit­nessed by the Ful­ton County Health Depart­ment’s fail­ure to spend some $8.7 mil­lion in CDC grant money ear­marked for HIV pre­ven­tion, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent WABE re­port. The depart­ment falls un­der the over­sight of the Ful­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, two of whose mem­bers, John Eaves and Joan Gar­ner, have agreed to join the Youth HIV Pol­icy Ad­vi­sors Pro­gram.

Num­ber of qual­i­fied youth ad­vo­cates leads to ex­pan­sion

The Equal­ity Foun­da­tion of Ge­or­gia ran into a good prob­lem af­ter word of the new pro­gram spread through­out the com­mu­nity of HIV-pos­i­tive youth in At­lanta—too many qual­i­fied can­di­dates.

“We orig­i­nally had 12 (youths) and 12 (elected of­fi­cials), but the choices were so dif­fi­cult that we de­cided it would be more valu­able to ex­pand the pro­gram,” Brown says.

Mike Lawrence, an HIV-pos­i­tive 27-yearold At­lanta Metropoli­tan State Col­lege stu­dent, is one of the can­di­dates who made it through the ap­pli­ca­tion process and will serve as a youth ad­vi­sor in the pro­gram.

“I would liked to see some­thing dif­fer­ent hap­pen with the pro­gram all through­out At­lanta be­cause there are all types of HIV-pos­i­tive peo­ple and sit­u­a­tions out there,” he says. “There are a lot of places around here that say they of­fer some things but there’s a wait­ing list or you get de­nied for some rea­sons so that’s my goal is to make sure we have more op­tions than what’s al­ready avail­able, and to fur­ther ed­u­cate peo­ple.”

‘I’m look­ing at it as a way to learn from th­ese young peo­ple’

The Equal­ity Foun­da­tion of Ge­or­gia has lined up 20 youth ad­vo­cates for the pro­gram, with 11 elected of­fi­cials and clergy con­firmed, four they are wait­ing to hear back from and nine to­tal spots left to be filled (see side­bar for full list of con­firmed and in­vited). Brown says they are look­ing into invit­ing At­lanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Stone Moun­tain Mayor Pat Wheeler, East Point Mayor Jan­nquell Peters and Litho­nia Mayor Deb­o­rah Jack­son.

“A lot of us know peo­ple that have HIV, so hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to spend more in-depth time with some­one, it’s like ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing,” says Rep. Karla Dren­ner (D-Avon­dale Es­tates), one of the elected of­fi­cials who will take part in the pro­gram.

State Sen. Vin­cent Fort (D-At­lanta), who will also take part in the pro­gram, is look­ing for­ward to it.

“I’m a teacher and teach­ers know that they get as much from their stu­dents as the stu- dents get from them,” he says, “so I’m look­ing for­ward to not just them shad­ow­ing me and ask­ing me ques­tions but I’m look­ing at it as a way to learn from th­ese young peo­ple.”

Mike Lawrence, a 27-year-old HIV-pos­i­tive At­lanta man tak­ing part in the pro­gram, hopes to help make sure there are more op­tions avail­able for those living with HIV in At­lanta. (Cour­tesy photo)

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