Over the years, I have found there are two sure phrases one can use to break through the clutter of the moment and obtain results.
My first (and most often used when not getting what I want while traveling) is, “Do you know how important I think I am?” It always disarms the tense situations brought about by being in unfamiliar territory for both parties while quickly creating common ground through laughter.
The other is a phrase I almost never use. I hate when it is used on me, but it is just as potent because of the very real results it brings as it rolls off your tongue: “You know, it's for the children.”
I think about this last phrase a lot after I hang up the phone with Jake Mossop of MTV’s "1 Girl 5 Gays
," a very frank program that explores topics of sex and lifestyle of kids (and not just those who are LGBT). This program, now in its fourth season, is creating an impact because of the straight talk about real world situations that youth are facing every day.
I use the word "youth" lightly and only do so because when the 27-year-old Mossop arrives at Wealthy Theatre for Grand Rapids Red Project's free event on World AIDS Day
, he will be addressing the topic of “Youth and HIV/AIDS.”
I quickly discover over the course of our phone call that this topic is very close to both of our hearts.
Sure, there are plenty of reasons we can celebrate the demise of AIDS in our culture. It is, for the most part, not seen as a stigma disease anymore, and a host of pills and treatments have arrived since the gay and lesbian community nearly revolted in the streets when a sitting President Reagan struggled to say the word "AIDS." When he finally did say "AIDS," it was 1987, and more than 40,000 Americans had died, with more than another 70,000 infected.
Reagan's fans seemed to have forgotten this man’s legacy was also to sit in silence as a population died under his watch. I, along with many others, will never join the Reagan cheerleading squad because of his mismanagement of these Americans’ lives. We were there when we buried our family members and partners, and our friends, like the former director the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), Dennis Komac. It would be Komac who would have a profound impact on my art. He also introduced me to World AIDS Day and a Day Without Art, another event celebrated in the early days of AIDS.
When Mossop arrives, it will be on the backs of history as he is armed with the knowledge of how to stop the transmission of AIDS -- and it is more than a pill or a condom.
“When I arrive in Grand Rapids, it will be the first time I have given this lecture on youth and HIV,” says Mossop, who is pursuing a Masters in Healthcare Administration after serving as a nurse in Canada. “What I have witnessed over the years is that one reason this group is at risk is because they lack access to even basic healthcare, but they are also more sexually active due to the advancing technology that connects us.”
The rapid delivery of everything from pizza, books, and even sexual encounters has been sped up due to the little handhelds that operate for many as a beacon for in-the-moment exploration. The key here is not to moralize the issue, because hormones are hormones. It is Mossop’s goal to help disarm the things that trigger bad choices. In this case, it is neglecting safer sex practices that can save lives.
And while Mossop’s conversational approach might seem like a road we have been down before, he offers a stern reply as to why he is moving down this well-worn path. While Mossop is aware of the dangers of unprotected sex, the data he has poured over shows that others may have forgotten.
We need vocal people like Mossop to carry the message that AIDS is not over to a group in society that is experiencing an alarming rate of infection. Often, these groups are marginalized by society for a host of reasons and this is why organizations like Grand Rapids Red Project are making an impact here.
It may not be something you feel comfortable talking about with your kids or your friends, but on Saturday night, Mossop breaks it down in real language in a no-holds, no-question-is-too-out-there, lively lecture style. As Salt-N-Pepa would sing, “Let's talk about all the good things / And the bad things that may be / Let's talk about sex.”
“If we choose to forget all that came before us in securing those treatments, then we are doomed to make the same mistakes,” says Mossop. “And if we forget that -- and often from people who did not make it -- well, that would be shameful. It is why I am working in this field of healthcare.”
This is the first time that Mossop has been asked to speak on World AIDS Day, a day we set aside each year to commemorate those who have passed on, but also to honor their lives by preaching a gospel of openness in addressing the practices that could save a person’s life.
We need more than a pill-popping culture. AIDS is not over. What we really need are people who will be open, like Mossop, when addressing the topic with not LGBT youth, but also straight youth, with whom this and other sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise -- even in Kent County. [Source: The Grand Rapids Red Project]
Mossop's candid style reflects what many have known for years and other may have forgotten. HIV does not discriminate. It does not care what race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation you are. It is an equal opportunity destroyer. It will still take all of us to make this disease history.
This guest speaker’s conversational style on stage at Wealthy Theatre is exactly what our local Grand Rapids Red Project had in mind when booking Mossop for their first free World AIDS Day event.
“Red Project hopes that by hosting World AIDS Day, the Grand Rapids community will come together with one common goal in mind; to prevent the spread of HIV,” said Steve Alsum, executive director for the Grand Rapids Red Project. “We want this event to be interactive and open. Its purpose is to encourage and increase the discussion of HIV, as well as the effects it has on individuals, their families, and the community as a whole.”
Mossop’s lecture is on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. and is free to attend. The doors open at 7 p.m. to a lobby full of area groups offering services and information to our community.
Other local events commemorating World AIDS Day in our community include a service at Fountain Street Church
as well as a special day of programming at GVSU
including the West Michigan premier of the critically acclaimed documentary on those early (and crucial) years of HIV/AIDS: How To Survive a Plague
However you choose to spend your World AIDS Day, please keep in mind that a little time devoted to education is always time well spent for you, your community, and possibly for the children, er…youth.
When we word-bomb in the present, we may very well be saving a life. The power of Mossop’s style is that he disarms the topic of sex with a gentle touch that is often witty and light, thus enabling people to hear and learn how to have frank conversations in the moment. And learning to be open is the best way to reverse the numbers on the rise.
The Future Needs All of Us (to be smart and safe).
Jaw-Dropping Events (They are that good!): http://www.rapidgrowthmedia.com/gsync/