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The ELITE Project tries to take a holistic approach to tackle the root of the problem, Program Director Shakira DeSavoir said. She and other ELITE Project staff will visit local medical providers, community centers and school campuses such as Miles College to talk about HIV/AIDS education and prevention. DeSavoir has even travelled to Montgomery and other cities outside of Birmingham.
Whether they need HIV testing, counseling or just a safe place, there's a place in Birmingham for these young African American men to go.
While it's important to directly serve these youth and have a safe place for them, Ward said it's equally important to reach out to the community.
"You can't address the HIV without addressing all the other issues we see them walk through the door with," said Dafina Wardm, Chief Prevention Officer with AIDS Alabama.
the result of your test but it's about your knowledge of your status and taking appropriate steps to do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself."
"We can protect and shield them here in this Adidas Basketball Shoes Early 90's
safe space, but they have to go back out into the world," Ward Adidas Basketball Shoes White And Gold said.
Even though people with HIV/AIDS are living longer and healthier lives, this stigma still keeps people too afraid to get tested, Ward said.
The ELITE Project is headquartered at the ELITE Center, located at 6th Avenue South and 23rd Street. The program moved into its current location in December 2012 from a smaller building. The new building, with walls painted bright red, leather couches and several video game consoles and computers, was designed to be an appealing comfortable place for young men to hang out.
The ELITE Project is a program with AIDS Alabama that offers youth HIV offers testing, support groups, counseling and events like movie nights and mock job interviews at the center. The program is AIDS Alabama's largest and was started in 2011 with a five year grant from the Adidas Climacool Experience Trainer
While African American men make up 12 percent of Alabama's population, they accounted for 58 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2012. The stakes are even higher for African American men who are young and gay, as they are 10 times more likely to contract HIV than anyone other Alabaman.
The ELITE Project and AIDS Alabama has provided testing to 700 youth and programming to 300 since 2011, Ward said. This past weekend they work with other local AIDS organizations Birmingham Aids Outreach and Greater Than AIDS to provide testing at multiple Walgreens locations for National HIV Day.
The ELITE Project also helps youth out with problems other than medical ones.
AIDS center in Birmingham gets personal to help young gay men of color
It's not only communities who have to overcome prejudice for HIV/AIDS, but individual doctor's offices, she said.
"[The grant] was really the CDC's way of saying, 'Okay, let's try to do this differently.' Not just slap a black face on an intervention and call it culturally competent," Ward said. "We have to create programs that are really developed for and by that community."
"There's a lot pieces to the puzzle, so I think we had to stretch in more directions than we initially thought," Ward said.
"I think that we have to change the conversation, and I think Elite has done a really good job at that and continues to do that about what it means to be HIV positive and HIV negative," Ward said. "So it's not about D Rose Zebra
The South as a region poses unique problems to treating HIV/AIDS and helping LGBT youth, Ward said. While she acknowledges that Alabama's location in the Bible Belt definitely adds stigma to being gay and having HIV/AIDS, Ward added that there are other reasons often ignored. Few educational resources, low socioeconomic status statewide and the perseverance of traditional gender roles are other unique Alabama issues that conflict with the ELITE Project.
The ELITE Project began as AIDS Alabama and the CDC realized general HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs weren't effective enough with young gay men of color. This was due to several layers of stigma, Ward said. First, the stigma of being gay. Second, the stigma of being a man of color. And finally, the stigma of getting tested and knowing your HIV status.
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