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Learning and Leadership: What I learned from organizing the community around AIDS

Wesley Dixon 270x270In recognition of National Black HIV/Aids Awareness  Day (NBHAAD) on February 7th, I took leadership in engaging Liberty Community Services (LCS) and the City of New Haven and Liberty Community Services, to organize an HIV testing and education event at the Ives Branch of the New Haven Public Library.

The event was historic, in that the City of New Haven had not officially recognized and celebrated National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in over 8 years. This year’s celebration represented a beautiful rebirth of a long-gone but necessary service to our beloved community. According to the Center for Disease Control Blacks make up only 12% of the U.S. population but had nearly half (44%) of all new HIV infections in the United States.

Last year, I attended the National Minority AIDS Council’s annual United States Conference of AIDS in New Orleans, Louisiana as a Youth Scholar.  I learned a lot about ongoing efforts to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic and participated in youth lead/organized panel discussions about ways to use social media to move the needle on educating about the basics of HIV and AIDS in our local communities.


National NBHAAB Event Flyer

After leaving the conference I returned to New Haven empowered to make substantive efforts to address HIV/AIDS on the home front. It did not take me long to realize that in the two-years that I have lived in New Haven as a student, I had not seen any formal recognition of NBHAAD on the part of the city, which I found particularly odd given the demographics.

I reached out to a number of community-based organizations about sponsoring a NBHAAD event but it was a tough process because I found that as a young person and a student, many of the organizations I emailed did not take me seriously or simply did not respond to my inquiries. Eventually however, I found Liberty Community Services a leader in addressing homelessness and AIDS in New Haven.  Meeting with LCS’s committed education and testing staff they were very supportive of working with me to organize an NBHAAD event.

After connecting with LCS, I was able to reach out to New Haven Mayor Toni Harp’s Task Force on AIDS who not only unanimously decided to sponsor the event, but also offered a number of ideas to make the event larger and more engaging. And then, after getting the City’s sponsorship, I received requests from various organizations that were eager to participate in NBHAAD in ways that I had not even imagined.

Ultimately, on February 7, 2014 the City of New Haven and LCS sponsored an HIV testing and education event, but also hosted an Affordable Care Act enrollment fair, which included over 7 in-person enrollment assisters from Access Health CT. We outreached and provided education to over a hundred members of the community who frequented the New Haven library that day and  we directly impacted 50 individuals through HIV testing and/or Affordable Care Act enrollment.

Personally, I’m humbled that as a young person I was allowed to grow in my leadership and bring together a variety of established community based organizations to serve a common goal. As a city, we were able to bring back an advocacy and service effort that our city needs and deserves yet has not seen for eight years. As we look to the future National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2015 and/or other important community events, I impress upon us to remember the importance of involving all groups of people in this process particularly the young, like myself.


Images courtesy of Wesley Dixon

About Wesley Dixon

Wesley Eugene Dixon is an undergraduate at Yale University where he is a Research Assistant at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, the Coordinator of the Social Justice Network at Yale, and an Edward A. Bouchet Research Fellow.

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