|Photo © Russell McGonagle|
Todd Murray: Hope's Voice was founded in 2004 while attending the Ryan White National Youth Conference. I did a speech on young people living with HIV and AIDS using their voices and faces to educate and end stigma for all those living with HIV and AIDS. After making the call for action, several young adults approached me about doing this type of work year round. The passionate, driven and inspiring young adults I met needed an agency that handled press, contracts, accounting, and let them do what they do best ... educate their peers on HIV and AIDS. Hope's Voice was born.
How do you select speakers for the Road to Hope Tour?
We are always interested in finding new speakers. Our key demographic is young adults, and we accept speakers within the age range of 18-28. However, we do make exceptions from time to time. What we typically look for is someone who has the ability to relate to young adults, and is comfortable speaking in public settings and sharing their experiences living with HIV or AIDS. Part of our program is peer-to-peer education and giving the audience a personal connection to the disease, and we look for those who are comfortable disclosing their status. Speakers for Hope's Voice not only speak on the Road to Hope Tour, but year round.
Do you ever encounter resistance to your work on campuses?
For the most part we do not encounter resistance on campuses. Hope's Voice programs are brought to campuses by students, which can improve acceptance for our program and communication on HIV and AIDS. Students advocate for our program and are doing the logistics on their campus and community. Hope's Voice and this message still face resistance on a national level and at many religious institutions. We address this problem by not telling students what to do, but just simply telling our story and letting our peers make their own conclusions. This form of peer-to-peer education allows us to get into institutions that wouldn't allow this type of education in the past.
How did the documentary come about?
The Road to Hope Tour documentary came together at the last minute. I wanted to show young people the process, frustrations and joys of building a non-profit, showing them that we can make a difference and that difference can come from a drive and passion towards a cause. I also wanted the documentary to serve as an introduction to a group of young people living with HIV and AIDS, each telling their story and showing the "behind the scenes" of the tour. It allowed those who couldn't attend a tour stop to still get an HIV encounter. The documentary is being used by education institutions and health departments across the United States.
Where is a good place for youth to go for more information on HIV and AIDS?
It depends on what they are looking for. Hope's Voice has a student center that has links to resources on education and testing, and a reminder service that the visitor can use to send routine reminder e-mails to get their STD tests. There are so many resources out there that if a young person is looking to get educated and can't find it in their home, school or community, use the Internet.
What do you think is the most important thing our readers should know about youth and HIV?
Readers need to know that communication is key in fighting this epidemic. We need to create an open, safe and comfortable environment for young people to talk about their concerns, get correct answers to their questions, and get educated on HIV and AIDS. With half of HIV and AIDS infections in young adults under the age of 25, it's time to start looking at new approaches to address the epidemic.