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Youth Say It Loud: We're the Next AIDS Fighters!

By Julie Turkewitz

July 6, 2010

The 2010 Youth Action AIDS Institute team.

The 2010 Youth Action AIDS Institute team.

When Anthony Roberts Jr. signed up for last year's Youth Action Institute, the Campaign to End AIDS' annual six-day youth education conference, he didn't know much about HIV. He just knew that he had to take action: Four of his friends -- a college roommate, two childhood pals and a high school buddy -- had recently revealed that they were living with HIV. "The issue had really hit home," Roberts said.

When he headed to Shreveport last week for his second YAI, he was no longer a newbie, but the conference's lead coordinator.

Growing New Activists

The goal of the Youth Action Institute, which ended last Friday, is to turn out young AIDS leaders just like Roberts. Each year C2EA brings a gaggle of 14 to 26-year-olds to a college campus and teaches them to become the AIDS policy-makers and protest leaders of tomorrow.

While some of this year's 34 participants arrived with a bit of knowledge about AIDS, most were like Roberts was in 2009: inexperienced but eager to learn.

"They don't know [about HIV/AIDS issues] because they haven't been informed," said Roberts. For these participants, "YAI, it's almost like an 'Ah-ha!' moment."

Adult-supervised but youth-run, YAI seeks to educate and inspire a generation vulnerable to a disease they often know little about. Most participants did not grow up during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, when Americans were dying of the disease at alarming rates. However, the rate of young people diagnosed with HIV is rising, particularly among young black men who have sex with men.

"This conference is saying to young people, 'Yes, you do have a say, your opinions do count and you can make a different in eradicating HIV/AIDS,'" said Roberts.

Now in it's fifth year, there were several "firsts" at YAI 2010:

Gov. Bobby Jindal: "Step Up to Our Demands!"

The centerpiece project of YAI 2010 is a video proposed, filmed, edited and posted on Facebook by participants. The video hits on what is now perhaps the nation's most-pressing AIDS issue: The urgent need for state and federal governments to address huge funding shortfalls for AIDS Drugs Assistance Programs (ADAPs). With thousands sitting on wait lists for lifesaving drugs, the YAI team constructed a piece urging Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal to restore ADAP funding to its 2008 levels. "Be the benevolent governor of the people and step up to our demands," the video concludes.

More About YAI

See photos from YAI 2010
Watch the YAI 2010 video en español

This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

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