A&PI Wellness Center Launches National Digital Storytelling Campaign To End HIV Stigma

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San Francisco, CA – On Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center will unveil a new, community-based initiative to end HIV stigma and discrimination among Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AAs and NHPIs). “Taking Root: Our Stories, Our Community” is an innovative digital storytelling project produced in partnership with the Center for Digital Storytelling.

Taking Root is endorsed by San Francisco Department of Public Health who recently implemented an aggressive, city-wide HIV prevention plan to cut new HIV infections by half by 2015. The success of this plan depends, in part, on a significant increase in HIV testing and status awareness among individuals.

According to data from the CDC, AAs and NHPIs are the least likely race or ethnicity to get tested for HIV—over two-thirds of AAs and NHPIs have never been tested for HIV and one in three AAs and NHPIs living with HIV doesn’t know it. For AAs and NHPIs, the silence and shame that prevents discussions of sex or HIV is a primary barrier to accessing HIV testing and treatment services.

“We know HIV stigma prevents many AAs and NHPIs from getting tested for HIV or accessing treatment services,” said Barbara Garcia, San Francisco’s Director of Health. “We need community-based and community-driven initiatives like ‘Taking Root’ in order to make an AIDS-free generation a reality.”

Taking Root’s community-driven and community-owned storytelling approach examines the complex interactions of shame, silence, and discrimination that isolate AAs and NHPIs affected by HIV from their communities. These stories—created by a diverse group of San Francisco AAs and NHPIs in an intensive three-day workshop facilitated by the Center for Digital Storytelling—chronicle the many ways individuals are affected by HIV stigma. They are rueful, like the story told by Hatsume, a young Japanese-American woman living with HIV (http://youtu.be/xvr9BDiDow0). They are also hopeful, like Eric Zheng’s story, which describes his journey from a young medical student recently diagnosed with HIV to his current role as an HIV physician (http://youtu.be/PYoBIV75aPw). Ultimately, these stories are honest and real.

“We’re all living with HIV, whether we have the virus or not,” says San Francisco Health Commissioner Cecilia Chung. “Real stories told by real people are the only way to get the community to understand how to break the cycle of shame. We can choose to perpetuate shame with our silence and judgment or we can choose to save lives with our love and compassion.”

Cecilia Chung, a recent appointee to the San Francisco Health Commission and a nationally recognized HIV/AIDS leader, will serve as Master of Ceremonies. The launch event will take place at 6:00 pm on Thursday, May 3rd at 518 Valencia: the Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics. Six new digital stories will be screened, followed by a Q&A session with the storytellers. For more information about the event, please contact Stephanie Goss at 415-292-3420 ext 330 or stephanie@apiwellness.org. Speakers will be available for comment after the screening.

Community partners include the Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics, Asian American Recovery Services, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Center for Digital Storytelling, Community Health For Asian Americans, GAPA, Hui Tama Nui, Native American AIDS Project, Native American Health Center, Oakland Asian Cultural Center, OLO: One Love Oceania, Pacific Health Club (PHC), Trikone, UTOPIA, and WORLD: Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Disease.

About Taking Root: Our Stories, Our Community
Taking Root is a national digital storytelling initiative that expands the Banyan Tree Project’s goal of ending HIV stigma in Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) communities in the US and six US-affiliated Pacific Island Jurisdictions. Community members are trained to author their own stories in intense, three-day workshops. The stories that are part of Taking Root are authentic and personal; they are the storyteller’s own work, unfiltered through the lens of a director, producer or journalist.

It’s been said that it takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. Taking Root is grounded in the power of the individual story, but its territory extends beyond the individual. We are a multitude of voices: there is no singular Asian American or Pacific Islander experience, and the face of HIV is as diverse as the people affected by it. Through the connections forged by our individual experiences, we are able to tell a story about the ways we are affected by HIV. Together, Taking Root stories heal and it is through the telling and witnessing of them that we learn to overcome our silence and shame. As Taking Root grows, it will eventually include stories from AA and NHPI communities across the U.S. and the six U.S.-affiliated Pacific Island Jurisdictions. Taking Root will be promoted at community events nationwide and online through the Banyan Tree Project’s social networks and partners. The first group of stories will be available to the public on May 3rd at www.banyantreeproject.org.

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