– BAI Ambassador
Last week, amidst the revelry of Mardi Gras, a group of Black women traveled to New Orleans from communities as far as San Juan and Milwaukee to form the inaugural cohort of the Black Women’s Ambassador program. The mission of the Ambassador program is to engage Black women online to have conversations about reproductive and sexual health, especially in relation to HIV. This program responds to the stark disparities in HIV education and prevention; the most recent AIDSVu data tells us that Black women were 60% of the new diagnoses of HIV among women in 2017. By all measures, biomedical interventions such as PrEP do not reach Black communities, and Black people living with HIV have worse outcomes along the care continuum than their peers of other races. Stigma, HIV criminalization, transphobia, and misogynoir compound the difficulties around access to education, testing, prevention, and treatment.
“We know that when we engage Black women, we’re able to take care of ourselves better, but we also do it for the community. When we are living better, when we are healthier, people around us are healthier.”- Raniyah Copeland, CEO
As part of the program, the Ambassadors will build skills and receive support to facilitate frank conversation on social media that engage Black women and where possible, connect women to services in their communities. During the training, conversations about the principles and values of the program were interspersed with dynamic training and skills-building exercises. The first speaker, Kristin Jones, brought her experience as special assistant and director of special projects for First Lady Michelle Obama to encourage the Ambassadors to identify with their audience. In creating archetypes of the women they wanted to reach, the Ambassadors shared their own experiences, and navigated conversations about un-learning stigmatizing tropes. In discussing branding and HIV education, Ashley Inness from Gilead (the funders of this program), reminded women to draw on the their own experiences to shape the conversations and informational material they would be creating. The Ambassadors committed to reflecting the full diversity of Black women, inclusive of geography, gender expression, language, and socioeconomic status. As one participant stated, “I use a reproductive justice framework, and I’m pro-Black in everything I do. Pro-Black to me means pro-trans, pro-ho, pro-Her.”
– Gina Brown, BAI board member
Over the next few days, we will be introducing you to the women of the Ambassador Program, and through the year, you’ll see their work on social media, on the BAI website, and in communities near you. We are at a crucial juncture: we have better biomedical tools and more modes of communication than ever before. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it bears remembering that we stand on the shoulders of Black women who fought, taught, and advocated both domestically and internationally for HIV resources for their communities. Ahead of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we recognize the importance of opening discussions to center narratives that have been historically silenced, and the opportunity that amplifying those voices affords us. We hope you’ll join us in these conversations.
National Training and Programs Manager
*Group photos by Nina Laroy