Activist Academy 2019

Information about the Program

GtZ launched and implemented the Activist Academy, which provided training and project-based learning to a fellowship cohort including long-term survivors, people living with HIV (PLWH), and HIV prevention activists from May – December. The mission of the Activist Academy is to reinvigorate HIV activism in Massachusetts, by recruiting, training, and developing community stakeholders and activists to educate community members in HIV prevention and access to care for those living with HIV/AIDS, ultimately increasing our capacity for HIV advocacy across MA

In May the Activist Academy offered fellowships to 43 applicants of which 25 individuals accepted. Twenty fellows completed the program. On June 29th the Activist Academy hosted an Orientation Day at Fenway Health’s 1340 Boylston St. location for initial on-boarding and training of accepted fellows. Fellows organized into six community engagement teams responsible for creating advocacy initiatives intended to increase access to HIV prevention and care in the state of Massachusetts, often focusing on specific sub-populations mentioned in the GtZ blueprint. The teams included Supervised Consumption Sites, Healthy Youth Act, PrEP and Youth Access, HIV and Aging, Safe Communities Act, and the HIV state budget line Item.

The Supervised Consumption Sites (SCS) group complemented an on-going initiative to establish supervised consumption facilities in Massachusetts for people who use drugs (PWUD). The ultimate aim of the initiative is to prevent HIV transmission via injection drug use and prevent overdose deaths. The SCS team created and facilitated focus groups with the family and friends of PWUD to highlight their experiences and their opinion of SCS.


Moments when I heard from mothers of children who lost their lives to overdoses, and them being resistant to the idea of a SCS in the beginning of the focus group. I could feel the heavy hearts and tension in the air over whether their child would even use at a SCS. Then, towards the end, we were beginning to connect. I could feel the empathy and call to action everyone had, regardless of where they stood on the issue. The biggest take away was realizing they had began to understand the importance of these sites, and how at the end of the day, they not only save lives (a huge feat in itself) - they also connect people to treatment. "

- SCS team member

The Healthy Youth Act group advocated to advance comprehensive sex education in public schools through the introduction of a comprehensive, inclusive, and medically-correct curriculum that includes topics including consent and relationships. The Healthy Youth Act group trained 4 youth ambassadors in the Worcester area, who learned about the pending Massachusetts sex ed legislation and how they would be impacted by it. The Fellow group subsequently organized a parent workshop featuring a panel of activists to highlight the public health benefits of comprehensive sexual education in the state, which the youth ambassadors were able to facilitate independently.

The PrEP + Youth Access group created a mobile-friendly, English/Spanish website to inform youth, parents, and providers about the potential impact of an expanded Massachusetts mature-minor law, which would allow youth to receive services like PrEP within CDC guidelines independently and without parental consent. 

The HIV + Aging group created factsheets and conducted community engagement surrounding the HIV + Aging bill through targeted workshops, which would allow for PLWH to access home health care services irrespective of their age. Home care services can include things like house work (laundry, washing dishes), personal care (help with bathing, medication adherence), or home medical adaptations (safety rails in the bathroom), and many other things to make life easier and increase a person’s quality of life.

 

Very interesting on how many times we heard from our community members in each of our groups held in different Aids Service Organizations (ASOs), how interested some were in further helping to support this bill. We also heard people who in the past would've had benefited from these services and they were not available to them or others who know that in the near future they would need them. One of the stories of a community member who is in need of these services right now, has been shared in our final presentation. This member is waiting for hip surgery in the near future on top of that, he lives with nephropathy and finds it challenging to simple things like opening a jar, lifting things. He mentions how he is always dropping things and many other challenges he is facing in his 50's

- HIV + Aging team member

The Safe Communities Act group focused on the disproportionate risk of HIV infection among undocumented immigrant communities due to lack of access to HIV prevention and treatment. The team partnered with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) to organize a panel educating the general community about the public health benefits the Safe Communities Act would have, so that undocumented immigrants could engage in HIV prevention services without fear of deportation.

The HIV State Budget Line Item group in partnership with the Project ABLE coalition conducted community outreach and facilitated workshops to educate community stakeholders on the importance of increasing public funding for HIV/AIDS. 

Fellows sent to USCA

The Activist Academy was also able to send 8 fellows to the U.S. Conference on AIDS held in Washington D.C. in September 2019. Here’s what the Fellows had to say about attending USCA: