Q: Tell us about your time at smyal:
A: My time as a SMYAL youth was one of the most empowering periods in my life. I gained so much knowledge about myself, my community, HIV/AIDS, leadership, responsibility and advocacy. I started attending SMYAL because I was looking for a place where I could let my hair down and be myself. At the time I was having a difficult time at school and at home. I needed a place where I could be around people experiencing the same issue I was facing. I had no idea of the changes that were about to happen in my life when I walked in the door at SMYAL for the first time. I have so many memories of my time at SMYAL but one sticks out the most to me. I applied to be the Youth Outreach Intern when I was about 20 years old. I did not expect to get the job because I didn’t know anything about outreach, but I got the position anyways. I remember thinking, these people are crazy to choose me. I did not even know what all of the letters in LGBTQ stood for but they saw something in me and began training me on so many valuable skills that I still use today. Skills ranging from public speaking all the way down to small things like how to answer the phone professionally. I began going to schools to do trainings and outreach. I also spoke on panels and at rallies in support of laws and bills created to fight against bullying in schools and our communities. By the time my internship ended, a passion for advocating for LGBTQ youth and the community had grown, and I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Q: Where are you now?
A: I currently work at SMYAL as the HIV CTLC Specialist. In my current position I provide free and confidential HIV testing, counseling and linkage to care services for youth. I also volunteer with multiple direct service based organizations around the Washington, DC metro area. Currently, I sit on an advisory board for an organization that serves the needs of MSM ages ranging from 18 to 29.
Q: What advice would you give current smyal youth?
A: I would tell all current SMYAL youth to never let anyone tell you that you cannot do anything. Always reach for the stars and never give up because at the end of the day you are in control of your destiny. Yes there will be hard times and yes there will be some closed doors along the way but you keep pushing because a lot of times you have to create your own keys and make room for yourself.