DREAAM Breaks Through: HIV Prevention & Promoting PrEP Effectively to Young Gay Black Men


Tony Bradford and Terrance Wilder manage and coordinate the DREAAM program at San Francisco AIDS Foundation. DREAAM, which stands for Determined to Respect and Encourage African American Men, is a community program that engages young Black and African American men and trans men who have sex with men between the ages of about 18 to 30—a population of people at high risk for HIV.

Many participants in the program also experience other life challenges—like racism, joblessness, homelessness, unstable housing or sex work—that may make it more difficult for them to maintain their health. Bradford and Wilder have their work cut out for them. But with a set of intentional strategies, they’re able to serve hundreds of clients per year—helping them find the health care and other resources they need to stay healthy and the community they need to stay hopeful.

Here are the strategies that Bradford and Wilder use—and recommend to other community groups working with young Black/African American men who have sex with men—to promote or share information about PrEP. 

1. They use their own story.


Bradford and Wilder say that they keep their relationships professional, but aren’t afraid to open up and share what motivates the work they do. “When I talk one-on-one with people, I’ll ask them about their sexual history and sex life. And about how they might incorporate PrEP. I still use my story to encourage people that are HIV-negative and who may be at high risk of HIV to think about PrEP,” said Wilder.

 

2.  They keep the conversation going. 

“There was a time in San Francisco where it was all about ‘test and treat’ for HIV,” said Bradford. “We forgot about prevention, education and information. We need to bring that back—to make sure that young people are hearing about sex education and HIV consistently.” And, added Wilder, “We don’t just bring up PrEP once and think our job is done. We don’t lose sight of the fact that promoting PrEP among young African American men and men of other races is really important and efforts to do so need to continue.” 

3. They don’t forget to have conversations about HIV, condoms, & other sexual health topics.


PrEP is new and exciting, but Bradford and Wilder never forget to talk about other prevention strategies like treatment as prevention and condoms. And, said Bradford, “We don’t assume that our participants know the basics. We talk about the basics of HIV. And how to put on a condom.”

 

4. They’re entertaining!


“We’re event-centric,” said Wilder. “We want people to have fun! That’s why we will do things like have drag show entertainment at our PrEP rallies. That’s how to keep people’s attention, and get them to show up for events. We want people to know that they have a solid place in San Francisco, in the Castro, and where to go to get services.”

 

5. They appoint ambassadors.


An effective way to share PrEP information is to ask members of the community, who are already taking PrEP, to share their experience with others. “People want to hear from others who are just like them. Who look like them, who talk like them, and who have sex like them,” said Bradford. 


 6. They make sex talk not secret.


When sexual health topics are taboo—or off-limits in casual conversation—this can be a big barrier. “We make talk about sex the norm,” said Wilder. “People may not want to talk about their HIV status. Or the fact that they had sex last night. They gave oral sex but they’re ashamed to say that they sucked a penis. If we can talk about sprained ankles—we should be able to talk about HIV, gonorrhea and chlamydia.” 


 7. They build a network of support.


Knowing, and being able to talk with other people, who are on PrEP is so important, they said. “We do groups at the foundation really well,” said Bradford. “Ultimately, it’s important that when the clients have the knowledge, they’re able to share and support each other—and do a lot of the teaching. That’s where we come in. We think about how to have drop-in group spaces, and how to allow people to talk and connect with each other.” 

 

8. They leverage social media.

Bradford and Wilder reach people where they’re at—in person but also online. They find that using apps and websites like Facebook to connect with their clients is helpful. 

 9. They ask participants to help.

“It takes the community to build a community program,” said Wilder. “Basically, you can’t do your work in isolation or on your own! That’s what I love about DREAAM. Our participants are so creative and willing to help. We have one participant who made the fliers for our event. I wanted him to put his vision into it, because the project is theirs, and it’s for them.” 

 10. They do their work from the heart.

“A lot of people on the street have been hurt, have been betrayed, have been used,” said Wilder. “We have to do things from the heart—to connect with participants and make sure they have a space where they can communicate and learn.”

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DREAAM is open to African American and Black gay, bi and trans men between the ages of 18 and 30. Find out more about DREAAM here. Drop-in to share a meal with the group, meet new people, and participate in workshops every Friday at Strut (470 Castro Street in San Francisco) on the 3rd floor.



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