Reflections on Black History Month from Youth Advisors in MFierce, a Local Community-based Participatory Project
Gage. Michigan Forward in Enhancing Research and Community Equity (MFierce), is a partnership of community organizations, youth advocates, and public health researchers working together to reduce STIs among young sexual and gender minority youth in Southeast Michigan. MFierce is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Community Approaches to Reducing STIs Program and is a project of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. MFierce uses a shared decision-making process among all partners to address STIs in our region, recognizing that research and community projects often leave out voices, feedback, and leadership of those most impacted by a health issue. As part of MFierce’s participatory framework, a Youth Advisory Board (YAB), ages 20-30 was created at its inception as a core component of the coalition. The YAB is vital piece of MFierce because the communities most affected by HIV and STIs, are the communities the YAB come from and are a part of. MFierce is currently implementing two projects: The Health Access Initiative and the Advocacy Collective.
To honor Black History Month, the YAB came together to discuss how Black History and Black communities shape our work. Within those areas are communities of young gay and bisexual men and transgender women who disproportionately account for many of the STI cases in Michigan. According to national data from the CDC, in 2014, 44% of the new cases of HIV infection was among Black adults and adolescents. Additionally, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 83% of the reported cases of syphilis. Individuals between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for almost two-thirds of all chlamydia and gonorrhea cases reported in 2014. Furthermore, the amount of chlamydia cases for Black women was 5.7 times higher than their White female counterparts. Subsequently, data from the CDC in 2011, approximately 90% of transgender women diagnosed with HIV were Black.
For the past several months, the YAB have worked together to form the Advocacy Collective, a LGBTQ+ youth consultancy and advocacy group. This group is comprised of current YAB members who are building their advocacy and professional development skills. As time progresses, the Advocacy Collective will continue to provide consultancy and technical assistance to organizations, institutions, agencies, and clinics in need of increasing LGBTQ+ youth engagement and/or improving policies, practices, and programs that impact LGBTQ+ health.
Why is Black History Month important and what does it mean to you?
“To me black history-I know a lot of people, when they look at it like and I have this conversation with my girlfriend and they say like well I don’t want to think about this slavery thing or y’know, like. They find a way to make it irrelevant to them. But for me, it’s not even about the slavery thing or the slave part of it, it’s about how they came up and overcame”, reflected Rama Yisrael-Pollard.
“It has its significant meaning. But I feel as like people don’t take it as serious as they did when they first established a month itself. I think it’s just in recognition of positive African Americans that did positive work back then to recognize them for who they are, and what they did today and who they are today or what platform they established”, said Curtis Collins.
A key reflection focused on intersectionality and its importance in the work that MFierce is carrying out and within the Black community with individuals who share many different identities, other than the identity of being Black. The YAB considered what intersectional Blackness means to them and what roles allies have in the progression to further support and advocate space for Black communities.
“Black History Month really makes me think of what identities I hold true to my heart, and I often find myself having to pick or choose between my Black, bi-racial, or queer identities. But it’s always been a battle for me, personally, because I am tired of picking and choosing. But where are those spaces to allow that to happen?”, reflects Gage Gillard.
“I was just thinking it’s insanely necessary to have that [Black History Month] because we don’t have that celebration. But at the same time, I know I said we should celebrate all year, but I don’t want to give the confusion that because it’s being celebrated that it’s a thing that people are okay with. Like it’s not a thing that’s respected yet, because black people are still considered second-class citizens. It makes me think about the lack of communities that are not represented. People are now talking about bi-racial people. In the Latino community, there is no conversation about what an Afro-Latino person experiences. I think that’s an insanely invisible community, and a community that is not respected within the Latino community”, said Marcos Carrillo.
“I think allies should take the position of listening. Listening and kind of doing what kind of needs to be done, even though it might not benefit them. Allies, if they are really dedicated to helping a community out, they should listen to that community, without wanting something in return, or even recognition, or anything like that”, said Zachary Crutchfield.
“Also there has to be a lot of self-analyzation. Because you’re getting constant messages, that actually you don’t have to do anything for this, you can just go about your life. But no, if you want to be a decent human being, you have to actively listen and actually question the establishment, and question yourself”, said Artemis Gorde.
As MFierce continues to progress, the YAB will continue to play a vital role in shaping the future of HIV and STI work in their communities and will continue a great tradition of empowering and building individuals in their communities
“I would just like to recognize a close friend of mine, Consuela Lopez, she works with Congress of Communities in Detroit and she actively works to expand peoples knowledge on the history of AF folk and what her experiences were growing up in Detroit. She challenges me to really think about my culture and the culture that’s around me and my families… Which makes me feel liberated at times, but sometimes different. Bayard Rustin, because I think that’s someone that people don’t know what happened”, highlighted by Marcos Carrillo.
“I would like to acknowledge Teresa Springer, she is very vocal when it comes to African American history and efficacy and activism. Very vocal”, said Rama Yisrael-Pollard.