The Future is Youth

My name is Jacundo Ramos. I am 23 years old and I currently reside in San Antonio, Texas.  I am Co-chair of the Health Justice Youth Council and Youth Community Outreach Specialist for Ryan White Part D.

Come with an open mind

Youth engagement is critical in ending the HIV epidemic we are facing because they are a demographic that is currently being affected. Many organizations are complacent and stagnant with their outreach. What they did for the last 10+ years has worked; however, we need to touch a population that has a completely opposite mindset to what these ASOs are used to. Not only must we use informal and non-traditional outreach, but we need to bring minorities and hard-to-reach populations – such as the immigrant and transgender populations – to the forefront of all engagement.

Young people have a low perception of risk that they will get HIV and may not feel the need to protect themselves. In order for us to reach them, they must see a face similar to themselves. Similar faces resonate more with our youth population. When they see someone who is close in age, from a similar background, and identifies as they do, they see someone who “gets it.” The many youth I have spoken to say that they are more likely to listen to someone young and knowledgeable versus someone older and knowledgeable telling them what they need to do or that what they are doing is wrong.

The youth population is hard to reach because many organizations have a programmatic mindset, which is normal when working in a structured environment. Youth, however, are risqué; youth are outgoing; youth are open-minded. Institutions need to leave what they know at the door and come in with an open mind.

The San Antonio Health Justice Youth Council

In 2018, the San Antonio End Stigma End HIV Alliance ran a Youth Listening Tour. The objective was to meet and engage youth in San Antonio with the purpose of learning more about them. The Health Justice Youth Council (HYJC) started in July 2018 as a branch of End Stigma End HIV Alliance of San Antonio (ESEHA). It was a way to continue engagement for young people, to give youth a platform, and to provide support for ideas for youth peers to take action in the community on issues that impact youth. We focus especially on HIV, sexual health, and mental health.

We are a group of youth and adult allies who meet every other week to plan events and outreach. HJYC aims to build our membership with a lens of equity by recruiting diverse youth and adult allies to volunteer together. The HYJC youth come from organizations like Ryan White, Beat AIDS, Fiesta Youth, Planned Parenthood, Health Collaborative, Healthy Futures, and more. We meet biweekly to discuss new engagement ideas and events for the community.

Doing things differently

Young people don’t read pamphlets. Social media is the best outlet to reach the youth population because it is quickly accessible and most youth spend a majority of their day accessing Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.

Here are some of the non-traditional ways HJYC is engaging youth in fun and entertaining ways that are still educational:

  • HJYC had their first youth-centered Art & Activism event on October 20, 2018. The event weaved art, music, HIV, and stigma at Say Si and had 44 people attend.
  • In 2018, the Youth Listening Tour reached 198 people in 23 groups.
  • The Youth Listening Tour 2.0 started in January 2019 and is still going on.
  • HJYC created a data sheet with a scannable QR code that is available at our tabling events. This gives students and youth access to information on where to get tested, PrEP info, mental health resources and more.
  • “CUM as You Are” Trivia is our next event on May 28 at The Block SA. We are partnering with Texas Wears Condoms and LUCHA, as well as sororities and fraternities from UT-San Antonio who will be doing a stepping show and participating in all activities.
  • HJYC is revamping our social media to be more structured and consistent. Moving forward, all our marketing will be done via social media.
  • We are contacting the resident advisors (RAs) of college dorms, school radios and newspapers, and local radio stations, as well and the venues we book to get the word out to their followers.

We are straying away from testing at these events. Many youth feel pressured or embarrassed to get tested in public or in a space around their peers. We want them to come to the events and become educated. We give them the tools to access the resources on their own, like the QR code resource.

Success never came from a comfort zone

There is no perfect or structured way to engage youth or to perform informal or non-traditional outreach. You must stray away from what you know and step outside of the box. Success never came from a comfort zone. If we stay comfortable we will not reach the success we need to end the HIV epidemic. My population is much different than what many organizations are used to; however, instead of figuring out how to reach them, try to bring young individuals to the table who are already doing the work. These individuals, if given the platform, can shape a change not yet seen in the youth demographic we are trying to reach.

We are the face and the future of our communities, so why not give us the opportunity and the platform to continue the change we want to see for the future? As an individual living with HIV, it is not only empowering to see a young, diverse group of individuals coming together to passionately shape a community. It resonates louder with me because we are minorities, we are different, but we are successful and we are powerful. That is exactly what our youth need to see.

Featured in videos: Tristan Garcia + Jacundo Ramos

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