Doing Right By World AIDS Day: Putting Community Front and Center
By Aryeh Lebeau, General Manager, TheBody.com
World AIDS Day, December 1, presents a unique challenge to a website such as TheBody.com that is devoted to all things HIV/AIDS year-round. How do we commemorate the day in a way that doesn’t simply rehash the information we disseminate every other day of the year? And how do we make World AIDS Day relevant before and beyond December 1? Every year, we create a special section for World AIDS Day , but we wanted our latest effort to be more than a list of resources and statistics. We wanted it to have a lasting impact.
We decided it was time to let our audience flex its collective creative muscle. This took the form of our first-ever video contest, as well as dozens of guest blog submissions from a wide variety of voices, many of which had never been heard on our site. It turns out that the best way to get to the heart of what World AIDS Day is all about was for us to shut up and let the community do the talking.
We knew we were asking a lot with our video contest when we sought homemade public service announcements (PSAs). We didn’t know how many people would actually take the time and effort or what kind of videos we’d receive. In the era of YouTube, when so many have Flip and cell phone video cameras, we trusted that our audience would pull through. Our faith was rewarded with a range of creative , informative and even heartbreaking submissions.
The mélange of entries exhibits the power of the medium – video has the potential to grab your attention and stay with you to a greater degree than do words on a page or billboard. Perhaps the best example is the winning PSA from Bryan F., who went all out in the creativity department with a condom-covered costume and original rap. While Jay Z won’t be looking to sign Bryan any time soon, Bryan's message was unmistakable and could only have been delivered through the multimedia stage that the web now offers.
Similarly, our collection of blogs gave voice to people who may not have another opportunity to speak to an international audience. The result is a fascinating mix of perspectives. For me, the highlight is the entry on the benefits of having HIV . You don’t hear the words “lucky” and “blissful” mentioned very often in the context of living with HIV, but in a thoughtful, moving piece, the author makes the bold statement that her life has actually improved since her diagnosis. You won’t find many HIV-positive people taking this stance and her words certainly rubbed some readers the wrong way. Yet numerous comments from readers proved that many can relate to at least some aspect of what she had to say. Anything that sparks this kind of lively debate is a good thing in my book.
While it’s a modest effort overall, I believe we accomplished our goal of creating a World AIDS Day area that can spread awareness, inform, and inspire any day of the year. We absolutely could not have done it without the courage and wisdom of those who chose to speak out.