Something as simple and direct as one billboard can change lives in one community.
Positive Young People Foundation (PYP), a new nonprofit dedicated to testing and prevention awareness, recently launched its AIDS-focused N-Ur-Face billboard campaign in South Carolina and Florida. Says Logan Voxx, CEO and founder of PYP, about the delivery method of the message, “Not everyone has a computer to log on to the Internet and view public service announcements through Facebook.”
“Having those billboards that promote HIV testing and awareness is very important because this is a disease just like any other disease. It’s a disease,” Voxx says about the normalizing effect of not excluding HIV/AIDS from our public spaces. “If you can have a diabetes billboard, a breast cancer billboard, an ovarian cancer billboard, there’s no reason why we can’t have an HIV/AIDS billboard.”
Voxx, a s0ngwriter and business entreprenuer who is currently overseeing the opening of a flagship boutique, was inspired to create the billboard campaign when he was in a car headed to a business meeting and saw a pro-abstinence billboard. “I don’t want to bash anyone, but I found the billboard very offensive.…It read something like, ‘The choices of others not to practice: Their consequences are their own to own, not ours to help.’ It was basically saying that abstinence was the only way to go and if someone doesn’t want to be abstinent and something bad happens that’s their own fault.” Voxx would rather give people all the options and not turn his back if someone is in need of assistance.
Abstinence-only sex ed curricula, common in the South, where he grew up, are limiting, he continues. Teachers and students are restricted from talking about issues outside of the lesson plan, yet “[some] teenagers are going to engage in sexual activity, and sometimes there are consequences,” he says.
And people need information, not ideology. One PYP billboard, which has the word “HIV” all over it and encircling the suggestion, “Practice Safe Sex,” garnered one response that it was promoting sex. But Voxx doesn’t buy the interpretation, especially since promoting sex is far from his intention. “I without a doubt would hope and ask people to practice abstinence until they are in a committed, monogamous relationship. However, that is not always the reality. I face reality and what it is.” Preaching “don’t have sex” all day long is not going to stop sex from happening, he adds.
Positive Young People Foundation was started in response to a lack of services targeting youth in the midst of an increasing rate of HIV prevalance among this population. Its primary goals are to prevent infections among young people; provide information and services to those living with HIV/AIDS; and inspire youth to make positive choices in all aspects of their lives.
Intent on disrupting the complacency that often surrounds HIV/AIDS and disrupting myths that AIDS is only a “problem” in Africa, PYP spreads its message in various, and highly visible, ways—billboards, wrapped cars, upcoming educational tours to college campuses, and a Web presence, among others. The campaigns all try to meet people where they are. For example, Campaign 365 invites people to support PYP by donating $3.65 a month, a low enough rate that most everyone can be involved.
The catalyst for the foundation has been building steam for a while. “Growing in the [South Carolinan] community I grew up in, things were a little different than other communities that may be more fortunate. I grew up knowing what HIV was; however, I grew up not realizing that it was a disease that is able to be managed. I grew up not realizing that it was a disease that would not [necessarily] kill you. Most of the individuals that I grew up around who were HIV-positive passed away.”
He continues: “Still, currently, I have many people in my life who are HIV-positive and some who contracted HIV just four years ago and have passed away because of the disease. Dying from HIV is not acceptable when medication is there.”
HIV is everywhere, but free access to care is not. “Let’s say somebody lives in Bamberg County, South Carolina. There’s access to care in all communities across America; however, the question is: Is there free access to care? Every town, every city has a doctor’s office, of course; they can treat you—for a nice fee.”
Speaking of the community in which he grew up, Voxx says, “I remember the first time I wanted to get tested for HIV, there wasn’t a free testing center anywhere near me. I grew up without having transportation. It’s not Los Angeles; we don’t have public buses and such. If you want to go somewhere, you ask a friend to take you and you give him $20 for gas money.”
A return in 2009 to this community was more than a homecoming—it was a turning point for Voxx. “I’ve been someone who’s worked very hard all my career in the different business interests that I’ve pursued. So going back to [visit] the community I grew up in and still seeing family and young people affected by HIV is something that had a serious impact on me,” he says. “To think that seventy-five percent of the people I grew up with are dead or incarcerated or HIV-positive, or, in some cases, incarcerated and HIV-positive [is troubling].” He realized that he had the ability to make a positive difference in a community he loves. “I would love to focus on all communities, but specifically a strong focus on cities and rural areas and communities that don’t have access to free care.…My goal is to focus on all areas—there’s not an area I wouldn’t focus on if given the opportunity.”
PYP is reaching out to youth across the board. “This disease is going to stop with young people,” says Voxx. “Without a doubt, my generation and the next generations have to talk about this disease again. I don’t ever want to create a fear-based campaign, but people need to be educated about what HIV is and that it is still here. And although it is not a death sentence, it’s definitely not something you want to go out here and get. Magic Johnson is not cured of AIDS. The medicines [available] do not cure the disease. Those medicines react differently in every individual,” he says, adding that a young friend recently contracted a drug-resistant strain of the virus and now a long list of treatment options are closed off to him.
Overall, the response to PYP has been positive. “Especially in my community—people I grew up with and community leaders and business owners,” he says. “And I’m very involved in my community in more ways than just dealing with HIV. I care about the community I grew up in very much.”
PYP is gearing up for its “Think Positive” Benefit Series. First up: Palm Springs on April 7. Then San Francisco, in time for Pride, and onto Los Angeles and Atlanta. The series will focus on the younger LGBT community. “Among gay men, HIV is on the rise. The disease can’t come back and devastate a community that has already been devastated,” notes Voxx. “These events are aimed at getting more people involved, getting people to participate in our campaign, and creating more of a viral movement, as well, with our video PSAs.”
Says Voxx: “I won’t stop talking about this disease until there is a cure. PYP won’t stop talking about this disease until there is a cure. No matter what amount of funding we have we will do as much as we possibly can. We can’t just launch a campaign and be successful for two years and then go away. We have to continue until there is a cure.”
For more information, log on to www.pypfoundation.org.