The vitality of youth is increasingly robbed by HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV/AIDS is indiscriminate of youthful curiosity,… The vitality of youth is increasingly robbed by HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV/AIDS is indiscriminate of youthful curiosity, innocence, or an invincible attitude. In fact these characteristics make youth open targets. Educational messages on the risks of HIV/AIDS play an integral role in saving the future. What better way to teach youth, than to have youth teach one another. The City Inc., took a proactive stance in saving the lives of youth throughout the Twin Cities.
Ten years ago The Check Yo’ Self Crew was created, under the umbrella of the HAS (HIV/AIDS/STD) Prevention and Awareness Programs. The Check Yo’ Self Crew is a group of teenage peer educators under the direction of Chi Ellis. The ‘Crew’ participates in street outreach, to educate youth on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The ‘Crew’ members range in age from 14 to 20. Current members include Latrina Bacon , Mirtha Cetro, Spencer Cistrunk, Yosiah Cunningham, Lenetta Doughty, Ricky Ford, Demetrius Hall, Persephone Jones, Nicole Rilea, Charisma Smith, Tamika Rucker, Montwanique Terry, Sade Curry, J.T. Shelton, and Antonio Williams. All are foot soldiers determined to attack the lethal grip of HIV/AIDS through word of mouth.
In selecting members for the group, Ellis looks for kids who are serious about field work. “We watch kids that have leadership qualities; who are able to talk to their peers and get their ears. We have a special bunch of young people.”
Ellis said in order to eliminate HIV/AIDS there has to be communication. “People have to hear the information and accept it.” Ellis said the ‘Crew’ members are dedicated and serious. Key factors of the organization ensure the group’s success. The ‘Crew’ participates in extensive HIV/AIDS training sessions. These teenagers do street outreach and give presentations in places highly frequented by young people. Diane Holmes, Program Coordinator, manages the group’s day to day operations, and coordinates activities. Her work allows the group to educate people at places like concerts, barber shops, hair salons, record stores, and other places young people hang out. The ‘Crew’ even made a CD with music written about HIV/AIDS.
Over time the ‘Crew’ has grown to be like family. Ellis said, “we formally meet on Fridays, but we meet constantly like a family. Young people who didn’t care for each other before, like each other now.” A strong bond behind the scenes is critical, especially when fighting for lives on the streets. Ellis said the ‘Crew’, “deals with street culture. The gang involved, high risk youth. This population is very hard to reach. You can’t reach them unless they respect you. You can’t be sterile and politically correct.” Ellis continued to say the group knows lingo used on the streets, and the correct terminology used by the medical field. “In order to do the work it has to be in your heart. HIV is 100 percent preventable, but it’s ravishing our communities.”
Ellis shared her frustrations on the high rate of HIV/AIDS amongst African American youth, with the ‘Crew’. In response they came up with the slogan, “Information/Education + Application = Elimination.” The slogan relays the group’s understanding that educating people on dangers associated with unprotected sex and sharing needles, only works if people apply the information to their lives. The group is steadfast in their outreach despite mindsets that believe HIV/AIDS only affects certain people. Another slogan touted by the ‘Crew’ is, “Remember it is not who you are, but what you do!”
In the end, Ellis said, the ‘Crew’ develops young people who are, “health conscience and community focused. “They apply what they have learned in their lives and community. They are armed with information.” For example, Marlon Moore, a ‘Crew’ member in 1993, is a succe