Transitions: Community Participation
Volume 14, No. 3, April 2002
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By Chris Griffey
One cannot expect positive results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people. Such a program constitutes cultural invasion, good intentions notwithstanding.
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
I have been involved in community planning for three years. I started out on the Missouri Community Planning Group (CPG) in 1998. That was the first place where I could truly be myself and be respected and valued because of who I am. I represented queer youth and, at 18 years old, I was the youngest one of the group. I was appointed cochair of the at-large group. In this group, we did not represent an agency but instead our identities and our communities. I learned how to be a leader in this group. I was on the Missouri CPG for over a year before I moved to Arlington, Virginia, and joined the Virginia Community Planning Committee.
My current expertise has been developed through four years of HIV outreach experience. I represent white, noninjecting drug users (past), youth, queer, and female-to-male transgender communities. When I was a teenager, I engaged in activities that put me at high risk for HIV infection. Now, I am at low risk because I am no longer a substance user and I am aware of how to protect myself.
I have learned how important it is to have my voice heard. It is self-fulfilling to know that I can help change how prevention programs are shaped and run by community-based organizations, AIDS service organizations, and youth service organizations.
While being on the CPGs, I have been able to recognize the barriers to and the successes of youth's participation. Some of the barriers are ageism, transportation issues, and consistency. The successes include gaining knowledge, being heard, affecting change, and taking on leadership roles. I believe that, in order to provide quality services to a target population such as youth, a program needs to come from the grassroots level. If people from the community are not involved, HIV prevention programs will fall short of their goals.
* Adapted and reprinted with permission from the NASTAD HIV Prevention Bulletin, December 2001.
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Transitions (ISSN 1097-1254) © 2002, is a quarterly publication of Advocates for Youth—Helping young people make safe and responsible decisions about sex. For permission to reprint, contact Transitions' editor at 202.419.3420.
Editor: Sue Alford