July 29, 2011
The 2011 Youth Action Institute (YAI) drew 25 youth from all around the country to Detroit for a training sponsored by the Campaign to End AIDS. On July 15, participants demonstrated outside downtown Detroit's Coleman A. Young Municipal Center for additional appropriations for homeless youth.
Being homeless, says Detroit delegate Alfredo Smith, can result in risky sexual behaviors that lead to HIV infection. State records validate Smith's assertion, showing homeless students in Michigan tripled to 22,673 between 2008 and 2010, and that 5,400 Michigan residents were reportedly diagnosed as HIV-positive before turning 30.
To support the trend of new diagnoses decreasing from 1,500 in 1992 to 760 last year, Smith aims to "open conversation" in his community about sex and HIV.
Another Detroit delegate, Brandon Hughes, laments that homelessness funding "is not increasing as the numbers of homeless youth are increasing."
Repeat YAI attendee George Montgomery turned his HIV diagnosis in 2007, his freshman year in college, into a passion for youth HIV/AIDS advocacy. Montgomery attended his first institute in 2008 as a delegate from his hometown of Charlotte, N.C. "It sparked something in me," he said. "I didn't realize how much [HIV/AIDS] tore families apart. It tears communities apart."
Participants in the institute, chosen based on submission of advocacy projects they view as essential to their communities,and receive training during the weeklong annual event to bolster those efforts. YAI organizer Christine Campbell likens the institute to a "boot camp for activists."
"There's not really one word to describe how amazing this feels," said Montgomery. "It's one of those awe-moments."