I had never been to Africa before, but standing at the top of a sand dune overlooking the slums of Khayelitsha yesterday, a section of South Africa’s sprawling Cape Flats, I felt completely connected to the homeland. The sun was setting, reflecting light off the millions of corrugated tin roofs below, the last hint of day before the Flats went dark and their two million inhabitants to bed. Overwhelmed and overtired my thoughts went on to paper.
“Today I met my brother, two worlds apart. One fire one heart. Shantytowns, pastels and browns. Smiling children, abandoned buildings. We are not lost.”
For me, a kid from upstate New York who lives his life online and often wears his heart on his sleeve, today everything was pulled close to my chest. I dedicated what I wrote to my new brother Bulelani Mvotho a South African filmmaker who is a grantee of MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation, which funds 55 HIV/AIDS projects around the globe. I am their new Ambassador, trying to revive a dialog about HIV/AIDS amongst kids my age, 15 to 24-year olds who now account for 45 percent of HIV infections worldwide.
Bulelani’s Snapshot Mobile Community Cinema is helping to spread awareness and preach responsibility in the areas most vulnerable to the disease. Almost a third of the Cape Flat’s two million residents are HIV+, one of the largest concentrated populations in the world.
When I was real young, like 11, a close family friend died of AIDS. I was so young I didn’t understand what was happening. I just knew she’d eaten off our plates and used our forks and I was so afraid. This is the first time I’ve really talked openly about my personal experience with HIV/AIDS. I’ve just been so inspired by everyone I’ve met and I hope that I can in turn inspire others to be responsible and fight this deadly epidemic.
In Khayelitsha, on my first day in Africa, a crowd of teens swarmed around me, called me the Ambassador, which was intimidating. I sat cross-legged front and center watching them react to tough topics like HIV, stigma, peer pressure, condoms and young boys spreading the disease through multiple partners. I was so impressed. They were so focused and so knowledgeable. I feel like American kids wouldn’t be mature enough to sit through a film like that. Georgia Arnold, from Staying Alive, told me there are 280,000 children in South Africa under the age of 15 living with HIV. Knowledge is power to them.
Follow me on me journey at www.theunbeatentrack.com