By Stephanie Brown
As young people, we all have a part to play in ending this tragic epidemic called HIV/AIDS. For those of you who have been tested and are negative, your job is to stay negative. To those living with the virus: your job is to keep fighting, and protect your health. And let us all gain as much knowledge and understanding of this chronic illness and those living with it as we can.
As a 26-year-old HIV positive person and activist, I have seen the good and the bad sides of this virus. Through it all, I have become the person I am now -- well educated, well aware, active and a leader. In 2013, there is still a stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, but when people show fear towards me, I always show love back. The more people shoo me off or ignore my invitation to hear my story to learn something, the more it revs up my energy and passion to prove my worth -- to say that I am still human. But I understand why people are afraid; there is a lack of education about HIV in this society.
When I share my story with younger crowds, they want more knowledge about sex. They want more information about HIV and other STDs. There is so much curiosity. Our youth need information that is at their level -- words that they can understand and distribute to others to pass on the right knowledge. For example, some people choose not to teach kids about condoms because they think it will make them want to have sex...but promoting condoms is not promoting sex. It is promoting self respect and responsibility.
Sex is happening whether parents want to accept it or not, and the talks need to start at home. Outside of home, the media and activists like myself need to step up. When it comes to HIV, education is key. Raising awareness about HIV is not only an eye opener for others, it's an eye opener for me. When I share my story with someone, it’s delicate therapy. I learn more about myself and others, combining my experience and theirs to gain more knowledge.
To youth, I say that the stigma can stop with you! Your parents should educate you, but it is also time that you start educating them and feeling empowered about your future. I speak a lot about education, but my true message is self respect. We have to learn to respect ourselves and be more mature when it comes to making life-changing decisions like having sex with someone else. If you educate and respect yourself, there’s no stopping you!
Find out what you can do in your own life to protect yourself and to help end AIDS at GYT.
Stephanie is an HIV activist who shared her struggles and triumphs as a young American living with HIV on the MTV show “I’m Positive.” She is also an ambassador for EMPOWERED, a Greater Than AIDS campaign launched with Alicia Keys.