On Tuesday November 30, the eve of World AIDS Day, a small group of students found themselves focused on matters closer to home.
The Kidz Commission on HIV/AIDS held its inaugural meeting that evening, tucked in a conference room of the Health People clinic in the Bronx. The students sat poised behind microphones, posing questions to the group of politicians, doctors, health advocates and parents assembled before them on the growing threat city teens now face.
The CDC has recently found that 50 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S. now occur in those 24 and under, and these numbers are rapidly increasing in African-American and Latino populations, especially in young women. These figures are especially relevant in New York City, which has the highest number of children orphaned by AIDS or living with HIV+ parents. And the age of infection is only getting younger.
That’s what prompted Chris Norwood, executive director of the Health People Clinic, to sponsor the commission, which pulls teens from throughout the city. “Prevention for kids is more than handing out condoms,” Norwood said. “It’s giving them respect and including them in the discussion.” Developed out of Norwood’s HIV/AIDS mentoring program, the commission will serve as a launching pad for the students to begin further advocacy work.
As the evening progressed, young people testified about the need for funding to expand their peer education efforts and complained that the current health education curriculum in their schools provides little beyond learning the parts of the body. “Our ‘AIDS Week’ was pathetic at best,” said Charlyn Buchanan, 18, a senior at Brooklyn Tech. “We spend three of the five days watching the film Philadelphia.”
The commission intends to change this by increasing its presence in schools and lobbying the New York City HIV Planning Council to include representation for those under the age of 21. “I think it was a great start,” said Robert Foxx, 23, the co-founder of the peer education group Youth Organizers United. “We’re laying down the groundwork for real change.”