I am 27 years old and was born with HIV. I have been greatly involved in HIV advocacy since I addressed the US Congress as a child in 2005. My work has grown from being a participant in care to advocacy, writing grants, implementing projects with a team of vibrant young people and, most recently, to being the first person under 30 to serve on the IAS Governing Council. The Queen of England recognized me as a Queen’s Young Leader in 2016. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in social sciences and have also been an Advocacy-for-Cure grantee.
Leadership positions require certain skills, which some young people do not have. This limits their ability to step up into such positions. A key thing that has helped me is having mentors and role models who have nurtured and supported me. It’s better if mentorship starts early, even before one has gone far in one’s education.
We have frequently heard young people asking for space at decision-making tables. Some have created that space. But is that space favourable? Well, sometimes, the space has not favoured them to be part of the decision-making process. Young people attend, but are not heard. We need fair representation by young people who are actively part of the decision-making process.
I grabbed every opportunity, small or big, which created room for me to speak up and represent my peers. Only one step leads to another. You have to be open minded.
My top three tips are:
- Concentrate on what you have. We have stories and experiences that the scientists do not have. You know best which experiences you wish someone else would have and not have. Never let someone else write your story because they will twist it to their advantage. In short, telling your own story should create the change that you want to see.
- Don’t accept “no”. I dreamed of holding camps for adolescents with adherence challenges. Since 2014, all I would hear was, there is no money. I never took it as a “no” it pitched me to start my journey of grant writing. I won my first grant, US$2,500, for my first three-day residential camp in 2017. This was followed by a GBP5,000 to hold four camps over five days. If I had accepted “no”, my dream would not have come true. A “no” from the other party should never be a “no” on your side.
- Find mentors and let them know that you are looking up to them. Find mentors who can support you to become a better person in your career. We all need people to look up to, and it is better if they know that you are looking up to them. Then they will support you throughout your journey.