The Art of Perseverance – Recognizing National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
The following personal account is posted in recognition of National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on September 27, 2013.Hello!
I am [D’Angelo] D’ Ontace Keyes. I am 22, a resident of Philadelphia, PA by way of Chicago IL. I work for Philadelphia FIGHT’s Youth Health Empowerment Project (YHEP) where I am responsible for development of vital behavioral intervention tools for young men who have sex with men (YMSM). My education is primarily in performing arts which continue to be the central to who I am. I’m a graduate from The Chicago Academy for the Arts with completion of my undergrad and partial graduate education at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. As I progressed in my work, I realized my greater contribution to the community isn’t my artistry, but my advocacy for LBGTQ people of color.
As an individual who has persevered through issues of abuse, homelessness, and social stigma, it was my passion for education and community service that helped me become the leader I am today. I started my community work when I was 17, coordinating community events for Chicago’s Youth Pride Center.
I migrated to Philadelphia to further my education, not knowing that I would be able to fill a gap for LBGTQ youth organizing in the local community. With a strong mind for organizing and development, I progressively sought to increase education and leadership opportunities in a population deemed vulnerable as sexual and social minorities.
Through community mobilization efforts for both the LBGTQ and heterosexual communities, our voice was starting to be recognized. The result of this incredibly important work has earned me an amazing professional experience as well as local and national awards and honors. I am most proud of development of Peer Support Peer Education (PSPE) in 2010, a project that mobilized for Sexual Health and Wellness services for the University of the Arts student body. PSPE implemented a program that included regular free HIV/STI screening, resources navigation and a distribution system of safer sex tools on campus.
Additionally, PSPE gave back to the HIV/AIDS community through our philanthropy efforts to raise funds and create awareness for the disease. The result of this work has earned me the amazing title of the youngest Vice President of Philadelphia Black Gay Pride (PBGP) after serving 4 years as the youth chair. PBGP being a part of a larger mission for mobilization for the African American LBGTQ community of color through its membership with the Center for Black Equity, it’s an honor to be an emerging leader of the equity movement.
I educate the community on social and sexual issues impacting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in conjunction with social stigma. The lack of knowledge of these issues is the biggest setback for many young adults in furthering education and leadership paths. Being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS at an early age was once a setback for me. With perseverance, I realized that identifying as a black gay and HIV positive person of color is not a burden. Additionally education has given me the tools to succeed beyond the limitation that society has set for me. The biggest barrier to change in the community is the attitudes. The most rewarding experience in making a difference is being able to let go of our egos and privileged thinking and be transparent about our issues.
In the essence of today, I am actively pursuing my brand as a performance artist and expanding my community work into fundraising development I am also considering a Masters in Public Administration and Development to propel me further in my career trajectory. Knowing I am a part of a legacy of leaders making history keeps me motivated. I am inspired by individuals such as writer, Patrick Polk, who stands at the forefront of those making a difference and creating a voice for our community.