Testimony Tuesday: The Impact of GAA on Youth

“The power of one voice” was iterated nearly every time I encountered Aunt Ros – Gospel Against AIDS’s founder and executive director, Rosalind Andrews-Worthy. These words constantly reverberated in my head from my first days as an 8th grader being newly introduced to the intricacies of HIV/AIDS, to my high school years as program manager of GAA’s youth group – YAAHWAY (You Abstaining According to His WAY). During that period, and extending into my undergraduate years at the University of Michigan, I would not only become knowledgeable of the science, prevention, treatment, and lived experience of having the virus and syndrome, but would use my voice to educate my peers – and adults – on this knowledge, encouraging them to remain abstinent from sex, among other prevention methods, until they felt ready and mature enough before God or their partner(s). Through my leadership of our intimate 5-person team, we crafted and presented curriculum, skits, speeches, and even a monthly radio and television broadcast (WHPR Detroit) to reach upwards of 1,000 people per year.

It was rather formidable for such leadership at a young age, and using my voice for public good was no easy task. As a natural introvert and someone who often felt insecure with my identity, speaking to congregations on such a heavy topic to over 500 people down to rooms with just 5 of my peers often terrified me. Yet, I realized that my greatest fear was neither the large crowds nor my “not fitting in” with my peers by taking such a mature and unpopular stance with this issue. My greatest fear was my immense potential – to delve into a subject of such gravity, and boldly follow a path of knowledge, understanding, leadership, love, and justice. It was my daring to align myself with a cause greater than myself that evoked fear – my will to follow what felt right in my heart though at times could not be fully conceptualized mentally.

Through HIV/AIDS-prevention education, my trajectory with GAA allowed me to find my passion for social justice in urban spaces, and to elevate my voice and my awareness to will such justice into being. This work of organizing and public service leadership solidified my affinity for community education and empowerment to enhance the quality of life for the marginalized. This passion drove me to volunteer with grassroots activists at under-resourced schools and orphanages throughout Vietnam following my freshman year of college, where we helped to update school resources and establish a new community library in a small rural village. It then inspired me to partake in a 3-semester experience in my junior year known as the Pedagogy of Action (POA). Under the tutelage of U of M’s Dr. Nesha Haniff, I was one of 12 POA students who took coursework examining the dynamics of power, oppression, and community empowerment through the lens of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its global responses; learned a completely oral HIV/AIDS-awareness and –prevention module designed for low-literate communities, which we practiced first in Detroit public schools; and then taught this same module to 15 different primary schools, universities, research institutions, and community groups throughout a 5-week journey in South Africa.

My thirst for service across the globe was yet to be satiated in my college tenure, as I most recently embarked on a 5-week human rights fellowship in Europe. In the Humanity in Action program, I explored diplomacy and issues of past and present discrimination in Europe, while primarily crafting a social media campaign against hate speech in Poland that engaged over 2,000 Polish citizens in 1 week.

Whether I am partaking in global service, chanting “Black lives matter!” in a street protest against modern-day police brutality, or spearheading interagency community support initiatives in my current role as a project manager in the Mayor’s Office in New York City, I know that my guiding force of love is rooted in Detroit, in my upbringing in the church, and in Gospel Against AIDS. It was in these nurturing spaces where I discovered that my young voice was powerful beyond measure. With my current sights set on a return to Detroit following graduate studies in policy and business to focus on equitable economic development, I do not falter from what was instilled in me as a young leader in GAA: that justice is simply love out loud, and love is an action that seeks to use our voices and energy – no matter our background, age, or package – to trump ignorance and fear, and connect and empower us all.

Here’s to fighting the good fight and always waging love through the power of our collective voice.

 

Michael Williams
Project Manager, NYC Service Fellow 

NYC Service | Office of the Mayor

Former Gospel Against AIDS Program Manager for YAAHWAY