HIV/AIDS remains one of the biggest public health crises worldwide. In the United States, new infection rates continue to be high, particularly among younger Black and Latino men. Four HIV/AIDS activists under 30 have been invited to share stories of the work they’re doing, offering a deeply personal look at this health crisis through a mixture of activist successes and larger social and political challenges. Though these individuals approach activism in different ways, they are united by a deep commitment to targeted educational and community-based projects that target racially and economically diverse populations.
This event also marks the launch of events for Our Viral Lives, an on-going educational project and online digital archive of HIV/AIDS stories focusing on diverse perspectives from an under 30 crowd. By balancing historical remembrance with stories that confront structural and social problems, the project hopes to combat stigma and misinformation around HIV/AIDS. In the process, it hopes to open up opportunities for activists everywhere to create sex positive prevention solutions and strengthen treatment opportunities.
Kyle Bella is currently serving as the Office Manager at Open mHealth, an organization devoted to pursuing mobile healthcare solutions that improve patient and clinician outcomes. He is also pursuing an M.A. in Social Innovation and Sustainability through Goddard College, where he has launched the Our Viral Lives project. Previous writing on HIV/AIDS has been published in Colorlines Magazine, POZ Magazine, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed LGBT, nomorepotlucks, and Jacket2. He spent last summer in Europe researching contemporary artists including Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Isaac Julien.
Mathew Rodriguez is currently the community editor for TheBody.com, the web’s complete HIV/AIDS resource. He is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in Slate, The Advocate Magazine, the Huffington Post and the International Business Times. He is also a celebrated speaker who has spoken at The Apollo Theater, Times Square, the New York Public Library, the International AIDS Conference and the US Conference on AIDS. You can follow him on twitter at @mathewrodriguez.
Charlie Ferrusi is currently pursuing his MPH in Community Health at New York University. He received his BS in School and Community Health Education from SUNY Brockport. Charlie is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and holds NYS Teaching Certification in Health Education. He currently works as a Graduate Assistant at the NYU LGBTQ Student Center, and serves on the steering committee for the LGBT HealthLink. In 2014, Charlie was honored in the 2014 POZ 100, and gave a TED Talk at TEDxHudson. Charlie is interested in research and causes related to HIV prevention, transgender health, LGBTQ youth, and health education.
Martez Smith is an MSW candidate at Long Island University Brooklyn and a Research Assistant at CHEST (Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training. Holding a bachelor’s degree in social work from The Ohio State University, Martez has dedicated his life to identifying and promoting strategies that will prevent the spread of HIV and improve the lives of people living with HIV. Working with CDC-funded DEBI programs, as well as the AIDS Clinical Trials Group has provided Martez with knowledge and insight into the needs of MSM of color. In addition to his work with formal organizations and institutions, Martez is a participant and leader among the house/ball community. His insight and knowledge of the AAMSM community has lead to the creation of a community level intervention entitled Elements of Vogue, a multidisciplinary behavioral intervention for young black and latino MSM involved in house/ball culture which aims to improve coping skills and overall wellness. Martez envisions having a role in the incorporation of sexual health education into high school curriculums, and community-based programs in geographical areas heavily affected by HIV infection. Specifically, his hope is to make policy recommendations through research that would in turn lead to the implementation of sexual health education curriculums in places with the highest burden of HIV transmission.
Kia LaBeija (AKA Kia Michelle Benbow) is a multi-disciplinary artist working in photography, performance and installation. A member of the Iconic House of LaBeija, Kia’s work explores the intersections of fantasy, nightlife, community, politics and fine art. In 2014, she received the Visual AIDS Vanguard award for her work as an artist and activist, was featured in the POZ 100 list of groundbreaking public figures, won Grand Prize in Women’s Vogue Performance at the GMHC’s Latex Ball, and had her photography prominently featured in the La MaMa exhibition “Ephemera As Evidence.” As an activist and founding member of the GrenAIDS Collective, her work is focused on HIV/AIDS awareness -specifically in relation to youth- by educating and creating space for new conversations. She is frequently invited to speak and give workshops on performance, voguing and activism at various arts and academic institutions around NYC, and regularly performs in theaters, galleries and nightclubs all over the world. A native New Yorker, she is an alumni of the Juilliard School and the Ailey School, where she trained in music and dance at a young age. Currently, Kia is finishing her degree at The New School University.