First of all, let it be known that I make for a terrible model and an even worse spokesperson.
But when I was asked to be a part of an HIV-testing campaign led by UCSD School of Medicine, I was first flattered to be considered at all "influential," then honored to be a part of something so big and so bold. I couldn't say no. ---
See, the Lead the Way campaign is kind of a big deal. It's the first-ever comprehensive "test-and-treat" model and method of HIV prevention and awareness. The UCSD researchers' goal is to get everyone in the 92103 and 92104 zip codes—yes, every single one of you living in the uptown neighborhoods—to answer one simple question: Would you or wouldn't you take an HIV test?
If they can get you to take the rapid HIV finger prick test or take a survey by either coming in to the mobile testing center at 3830 Park Blvd. or by doing it through their door-to-door mobile testing campaign; great. If not, they want you to tell them why.
The first portion of the campaign was rounding up 16 recognizable faces who actually live or work in the area. They took our photos then started a massive advertising campaign asking people to go to the Lead the Way website for details. We all took the test or survey and learned about the campaign so that when my coffee guy looks up and says, "Hey, didn't I see you on a billboard?" I can respond and say, "why yes, let me tell you a little more about Lead the Way and how easy it is to get an HIV test these days."
Other Lead the Way faces you'll be seeing on billboards and bus stops around town include Sam Chammas of Whistle Stop Bar, Station and Live Wire; Father Joe of Father Joe's Villages; Matt Gordon of Urban Solace, Nate Benedetto of Urbanist Guide and others.
Here's where my failure to be a good spokesperson comes in. When I first did a post on Facebook about the campaign, I said something like, "People will be coming by to prick your finger and test you for HIV. I took the test, why wouldn't you?"
I was flooded with a negative, defensive and suspicious response that I wasn't expecting. I suppose there's something to the Lead the Way's marketing technique of not giving away too much information too soon and promoting a website filled with detailed information rather than shouting from a rooftop that you're making the rounds ready to prick peoples' fingers and give them an HIV test.
Finger pricks are scary. HIV tests are nerve-racking. Plus, there's a lot of mistrust when it comes to public-health campaigns—especially ones involving sensitive HIV results—but I think the Lead the Way researchers have done a pretty good job of addressing most of those concerns on their FAQ page.
As I learned through my ineloquent Facebook post, there are simply some people who won't take the test unless it's on their own terms. And there are others who think taking the test somehow equates to admitting promiscuity.
I know that my giant face on a billboard in North Park probably won't change your mind about whether or not you'd take an HIV test, but my hope is that it at least starts a few conversations.