Friday, 30 November 2012

I Am Aware. I Live Up. Meeting a real life SHEro

I believe that at this moment in time, the changes we need as a society, as a region, will be spear-headed by women and the youth. That is not to disregard the impact that men will no doubt have. Without the men following suit, we will not be able to say that we truly evolved. As a young woman, I fit into the two demographics that are most likely to be agents of change, I am acutely aware of my responsibility and it is not something I take lightly. But if I am to be completely honest, I would have to tell you that sometimes I feel like my actions would not be as significant as I hope. In moments like these, I have to look outside of myself for stories, for people who did the little or the much that they could and who persevered to see that effort be a catalyst for the change we need on crucial issues with regard to the improvement of our well-being as a people/region- issues such as the pandemic of HIV/AIDS infections within the Caribbean.

I previously posted about my experiences in Barbados as a student, how my eyes were opened and how it spurred within me an adventurous spirit that likely would not have been present if I was not away from “yaad”. One of the new experiences was entering this bathing suit competition turned reality show- Island Queen. Stay with me here- It will all connect. The winner of Island Queen 2012 would go on to be an ambassador of HIV/AIDS awareness as the competition was, that year, produced by the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS (CBMP) and Media Support International. The theme that year was: I am Aware: Soldiers of Awareness. The CBMP’s “Live Up” campaign was integrated into the Island Queen competition as part of our workshops and challenges. I was very skeptical about these workshops- I pictured stuffy atmospheres with the usual questions and cliché role-playing scenarios that would leave us feeling no more inspired than before we came. Boy, was I wrong! A couple of our more notable challenges were: where we went to a cricket match at a stadium (cricket is big sport in Barbados- I said that in a Bajan accent, by the way J ) where we held up signs with messages about safe sex, knowing your status and putting an end to discrimination- not something for the timid, I should tell you;  and where we had to make up our own message for a commercial about condoms that were not your typical kind in look, feel and, in some cases (so I heard) taste- talk about nerves! I will be sure to elaborate more on these in future posts. On one of our workshops, we were introduced to the Chair of CBMP- Dr. Carol Jacobs. Dr. Jacobs’s accolades are too many for me to note them all here but believe me when I say she is very accomplished and well-renowned for her contributions to aid in curtailing the pandemic.
IQ cntestants with Dr. Jacobs and Rupee

Sharing our stories at the workshop with Dr. Jacobs and Rupee
Dr. Jacobs is Jamaican born and educated female who now lives in Barbados- immediate connection for me. The fact that she recognizes the importance of not just the message but the messenger made me connect with her all the more. She has had her fair share of naysayers because of her work with those who have had to live with or suffer from this disease- she was often called “the AIDS lady” by many hecklers. Dr. Jacobs remained steadfast in her quest to help stem HIV/AIDS and her efforts have been recognized throughout the region. We all shared our experiences (if we had any) with and views about persons who have HIV/AIDS. One thing I could speak on was knowing someone who, at the time of her passing, it was said that she died from pneumonia and later finding out that that was not the whole story- that she had also contracted HIV which later turned into AIDS. The stigma attached to such a disease is the reason why so many keep quiet and do not seek help or even try to protect themselves by being equipped with the knowledge of their status. Caribbean artist Rupee was also a guest and told us his story of having a mother and father die from AIDS and how this changed his approach to life and his career. Dr. Jacobs told us of her work with young people and sex workers and the practices they engaged in that put them at risk and the stigma attached to persons with HIV/AIDS and how that stigma contributed in large part to the risky practices and attitudes of the youth. It was funny how much I thought I knew as a young person myself but some of what Dr. Jacobs told me blew my mind. The lingo these children were using to describe the sexual acts they engaged in was news to my ears. But this is to be expected. The children nowadays are more exposed to sex than we were as kids and even when we were kids, we were a lot more advanced than we were given credit for. This is something that we seem to forget as soon as we make the transition from child to adult. It causes such a huge gap in communication, it’s no wonder our young people find it hard to listen to us- they don’t feel we can relate to them and truth is, we often times cannot because we have chosen to repress the truth of our past and deny the reality of their present because it makes us uncomfortable.

What I really appreciated about Dr. Jacobs was the fact that she got that even though you might have the answers, the problems won’t get solved if no one will listen. Seeing that they focus on young people, she had become aware the best people to help spread the messages needed are young people themselves. "If we are going to engage our songwriters, our artists, our entertainers, young people like you", she said, "it must be in a real kind of way. It must be in your world in real time." So they sought to educate young folks like myself and put us into action. Want to get people involved in a cause? Show them how imperative they are to its success. Calling them soldiers certainly helps to build patriotism, in my opinion J. I loved how they incorporated the Soldiers of HIV/AIDS awareness theme into our bathing suits which were designed and made by the incredible sister team of Nikita and Alyssa Goddard and into the photo-shoot (expect posts on these too- I have included two behind-the-scenes pics of the first shoot as a teaser).  It was cemented into our minds the importance of not just knowing our status but of being safe and encouraging others to be safe and the complementary task of doing everything we can do to help eliminate the prejudice against those of us living with HIV/AIDS.

This was the first set the attempted to use for the shoot. That gun was HEAVY! The lady in yellow is one of the designers of the swimsuit, Nikita. I needed her help holding it. Trust me!

They meant business. I am covered with actual motor oil and lying in a box of bullets. Themed shoots for the win! This was the second setup but it was by no means, the last or the least scary O_O.
Dr. Jacobs told us of other ambassadors that had signed on from Jamaica- Olympic champions Shelly Ann Fraser- Pryce (who is a graduate of my alma mater! FYI, Shelly and I were on the high school track team together- albeit for a brief period of time since I eventually left), Yohan Blake and Veronica Campbell-Brown- how awesome is that?! I mean, if you want a message to spread fast, who better to carry that than some of the fastest athletes in the world? To think that I am part of a cause along with these other great Jamaicans is amazing and humbling at the same time. I think I was in the perfect place at the perfect time when I went to Barbados. I was reluctant and homesick and I went begrudgingly. Little did I know how great a part this move would play in helping me to find one of my purposes. Dr. Jacobs did mention that to the young children (primary school level) did see even us 20+ year olds as “old” so it really hit home that I better get on to spreading this message while I still have their ears. Young or old, male or female, we all can play a pivotal role in getting rid of new cases of this disease. The key is to be creative and to persistent in the cause. For my part, I have sought to utilize social media and its influence to spread awareness. Not just with this blog post but with Facebook posts and Twitter updates. No one can deny the power of social media in today's world especially on young people. Here's hoping the message to eliminate this virus goes viral. Oh, look at the play on words!

Dr. Jacobs, I thank you and I salute you. You are a champion for women and Jamaicans everywhere. I hope the vision of a AIDS-free generation comes to pass in your lifetime. It was an absolute honor to have met you.

Myself and Dr. Jacobs

Much love to Rupee for coming along and sharing his story of how he was personally affected by HIV/AIDS with the loss of his mother and father due to the disease. As I said before, men are important to this movement and male entertainers are great potential messengers, in my opinion.

Me and Mr. Tempted To touch himself- Rupee

P.S. December 1 is World Aids Day. It is a chance for us to unite worldwide in the fight against AIDS. Let’s all do our part, no matter how small. Know your status. Help stop discrimination. Let’s love ourselves and each other.

Love. Protect. Respect.                                                                                                                                                                
One Love J

One more thing- I have been trying to get footage of Dr. Jacobs' and Rupee's visit but because the show has yet to air, it's been tricky. I must admit that I am now rethinking my decision to wait until the episodes air to give my side/ insider scoop on what was really "real" ;) based on what each episode airs. I thought that would be a great opportunity for us to be more interactive but the delay has been way longer than expected. What I can offer in the meantime is a trailer that is online that speaks about the competition on a whole but does drive home the major theme behind it (being soldiers of awareness). Dr. Jacobs' cameo starts at 4:47.

This post is a part of UNICEF Jamaica's #HashCon2012 whose topic this year is "Positive SHEroes: Strong women working towards an AIDS-free generation." Find out more about #Hashcon2012 here and vote for my post (if you are so inclined :) ) here. Also, tell me how you Live Up in the comments.

Again, the link to vote for me is:

Photo credit for first photo:


  1. Very inspiring piece, Nas! It really fleshed out many of the challenges faced and the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. Being a certified HIV/AIDS peer educator it gave a sort of refreshment to why we still push for the cause to stem the disease and the stigma, and an appreciation for the tremendous work of Dr. Jacobs! Must have been an honour to have met her. Would’ve been nice to meet Rupee too! lol

  2. Thank you so much, Nicolette. I look up to you folks who have been putting in serious work for an extended period of time. It drives the point home that the fight is not just for those of us who are diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. In fact, our voices will ring louder when HIV+ and HIV- persons stand together. I only hope to play a more pivotal role in this fight. I'm grateful for women like you and Dr. Jacobs. I was pretty geeked out meeting her. P.S. Rupee smelled really nice and I noticed this because he made it a point to hug every single one of the Island Queen contestants. Also, I got to speak to him afterwards and he really cared about what I had to say and asked for my input on some future plans with this movement. Eek!

  3. A delicious potpourri of insight and inspiration. It certainly raises a number of key challenges being faced in relation to HIV/AIDS within the region while offering feasible avenues for mitigating if not solving the problem. It is refreshing to see that there are young advocates being the voice of the voiceless in raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS reality and debunking the myths that proliferate the problem of discrimination against HIV/AIDS infected persons. Well done Nas! Continue to inspire and be the role model that you are. I look forward to reading more :D

  4. Oh, wow. Andre, this comment is more beautiful than the post itself. Thank you so much for reading and for commenting. It means a great deal to me. I am going to try to not crumble at the thought of what being a role model requires. It's pressure but I can't think of a better cause for which I'd go through this :) It is vital that we young people realize that we are the present AND the future. We have to play our part in fixing the problems we see with the world. We have enough access to history and to current news to see that the way serious issues like HIV/AIDS and the discrimination suffered by those infected have been dealt with by the majority, is not progressive. It is helping to kill our people. It is helping to kill us. We must change the majority. We know better so we must do better. We can't get comfortable because we see SOME progress and expect others to do the work. This is a worldwide human issue that affects us all so we all must act. I'm inspired by all the young people who have been vocal and active in this fight and I only hope to make my voice and actions as loud as theirs. I look forward to writing more. Thanks again!

  5. Thank you! I absolutely love you for reading :D

  6. So I'm reading this again simply because I'm happy for you. Happy because I know leaving your home and loved ones behind was hard for you and that in spite of all that? You had this awesome opportunity in Barbados! I also thank God for letting you have this experience, because our country and region need people like YOU to have the hope and drive to see certain changes occur in our world.

    I always knew you had it in you to be an agent of change (you've BEEN doing this) so go ahead and be the next nother ambassador Nas girl! I'll be right here supporting ya! May just follow back a yuh and be an ambassador!:D

    Oh and...WRITE ON!;)

  7. Oh, Morgy. This really got to me and in the very best way. I am near tears. You so get it. You know that it hasn't been the easiest over there and that it took the support from my amazing friends like you to stick it out at certain moments. I feel opportunities like this were given to me to help change my perspective and they have. Truly. I am thankful for having had to go to Barbados for reasons like these. Thank you for reading and for always supporting.

    A we sey Ambassidah! Lol.

  8. Let me first say I am your friend (a years a me & yuh) and I expect to get a one big-up when yuh buss.

    That out of the way, my life has been enriched after reading this post. Your experiences are no longer your own; we have all lived and learned through you and you've done a fantastic job in getting the message to us.

    As someone with vested interest in HIV/AIDS & especially its impact on women (the feminist in me) this post really inspired me to keep going. I'd also love to meet Dr. Jacobs someday.

    Keep going Nas, the world needs more socially conscious young people like yourself.

  9. Karen, your name is at the top of every list of shoutouts, big ups and thanks. This means so much to me coming from you. You know I was especially nervous to have you read it and share your honest thoughts. I breathed a sigh of relief when I read your comment. Dr. Jacobs is too cool for words. I hope she sees this post one day. And I draw inspiration from young, driven people like you where social consciousness is concerned. Thank you for everything especially for being there (although not physically)during my whole experience in Barbados. You were a pillar of strength when I needed it most. I'll never forget. :)