By Zach Childree and Tara Cavanaugh
A dozen young Detroiters staged a protest Monday after an effective and popular program of AIDS Partnership Michigan was forced to close its doors. The program, REC Boyz – short for Real Enough 2 Change Boyz – lost its funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after 5 years of success.
Darius Hooper, a program coordinator at APM, said the program serves youth ages 13-24 “who really have nowhere else to go but to us” for prevention services, case management and testing.
“We hope to tell the community we’re here, we’re not giving up and we’re not going anywhere without a fight,” Hooper said.
According to APM, the program costs $31,000 each month, which APM cannot afford to supply on its own. Barb Murray, executive director of APM, called the decision to shut down the program “gut-wrenching.”
“I have seen board members angry before, but I have never seen them cry,” Murray said. “It has been the most highly impactful and game-changing program this agency has had the opportunity to operate.”
“It’s more than just handing out condoms,” said Wayne Stallworth, a specialist in counseling and testing services. “This space gives our youth a chance to come to a place that is safe, non-judgmental and very comfortable. Once they’re here, they can learn, and then take what they learn and teach their peers about it.”
The program used a peer leadership model developed at the University of California San Francisco Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. According to APM, the REC Boyz program has reached more than 5,000 high-risk young Detroiters with informational sessions, outreach activities, workshops and discussion groups.
The CDC contributed $369,497 each year for the program, which had a staff of 5 full-time employees. The program was located at 1959 E. Jefferson St., where Monday’s protest took place.
APM applied for renewed CDC funding in March, and the CDC conducted a site visit in August. But APM has not heard anything else from the CDC. The lack of response and funding forced the program to close.
“HIV prevention is important and needed especially in the city of Detroit,” said Stallworth. “Our youth here need it. We want the CDC to see us as an important city and recognize us as someone that needs to be in this fight.”
The REC Boyz planned the protest themselves, Murray said: “I’m very, very proud of them.”
Murray said that APM hopes to provide positions for the five full-time staff members who worked in the REC Boyz program.
“We are still working out budgets with our other funding streams and trying to see if we can hang on to any of them. None of that is final,” Murray said. “We’re doing the best we can.”