By Aunsha Hall-Everett, MA | February 4, 2016
Executive Director, REACH LA
Throughout my time working with young people, I have had the opportunity to witness amazing conversations. I recently spoke with a group of young Black gay men (ages 16-19) about some of the sexual health and health promotion efforts we are building.
Hearing them share their experiences gave me two “ah ha” moments. First, I’m getting old. Second, we need to improve intergenerational relationships and build better communication between younger and older adults.
Twelve years ago, I was this 22-year-old new outreach worker, finishing up my undergrad work at the University of Kentucky. Because of my age, sexual orientation and race, I was privileged to sit at many “tables.” A lot of groups wanted to hear my “youth perspective.”
But while I was at those tables, I felt more tokenized than valued. I was the “young person” needed to fill a quota rather than an expert who was there to share a different and valuable viewpoint. (Michael Everett eloquently speaks to his experience of this type of tokenism here.)
Now, as a 34-year-old new Executive Director for a youth-serving organization, I am dismayed to see that young people are having the same experience I had twelve years ago.
In some parts of the country, HIV is a younger person’s issue—the people most at risk, those who are newly diagnosed, those needing treatment and services, are predominantly under 30. In other regions, it is more of an older person’s issue.
I’ve sat on both sides of this room. I’ve been the young gay man able to take the pulse of his community of brothers, hearing my friends say, “Those people running the programs? They are not listening to us.”
I’ve been the older, established professional trying to encompass distinct and different views across generations, hearing staff or board members say, “Those people in the community? They are not listening to us.”
Throughout my twelve years of working in the HIV prevention and service arena (and experiencing my own personal and professional transitions), the need for more meaningful intergenerational conversations in Black communities has become ever more crucial.
Our community is hurting. It is time to have the conversation around what we can do together that we cannot do apart. We can make these conversations stronger, better and more purposeful. But to succeed, we must also be:
Mindful. Intentional. Strategic. This kind of M-I-S-Communication can make the difference!
Many people across many different communities are working to end the HIV epidemic. Each year, we mark National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7—an opportunity for the Black community specifically to promote education and HIV testing and mobilize our neighborhoods to respond to the continuing epidemic. The NBHAAD website reminds us, “We have to challenge the mindset in our homes, communities, workplace, churches, mosques and temples, because we all need to take a stand against HIV/AIDS.” The theme this year is "I Am My Brother's and Sister’s Keeper: Fight HIV/AIDS!"
This is exactly the reason M-I-S-Communication is so vital. Our brothers and sisters are dying from this epidemic, both young and old. We can no longer talk to just our peers about the problem. We have to expand those conversations into other Black social networks—across generations, across genders, across neighborhoods. Working together, we will be able to assess and influence the social determinants that continue to oppress us. This is the way we will build real and effective strategies to end this epidemic that is killing us.