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"So often the numbers are overwhelming to the point of losing their real meaning," says AIDS activist Adam Taylor, MPP 2001, of the 16 million Africans who have died from AIDS and the 25 million more with the disease. When he was a student at the Kennedy School those numbers were just statistics. "I wanted to learn firsthand what was driving this epidemic," Taylor said of his work in Zambia with Africare a U.S. charitable organization.
"My time in Zambia opened my eyes to the devastation of AIDS, but also [to] the hope," he said. "I was encouraged to see so much courage on the part of youth, women...to serve as peer educators and care providers for the sick." Taylor helped community organizations beef up their programs aimed at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS among Zambia's young people. He also assisted youth leaders secure a seat on the country's National HIV/AIDS Council.
When Taylor returned to the United States, he began to realize that US college students could play an important role but needed to mobilize differently. "On a student level, there was a real vacuum," Taylor said. "I gave a few talks at the school about my experience. I was amazed how many students wanted to know how they could help. I knew there needed to be a mobilization. I was convinced it would take a movement similar to the civil rights or anti-apartheid movements."
With classmate Imani Duncan MPA/ID 2001, Taylor started a nonprofit called Global Justice, designed to mobilize young people around social justice issues. Today, their first project - the Student Global AIDS Campaign - is the largest network in the United States of student and youth organizations fighting AIDS through education and political action.
What makes them different from other groups working with students on social issues, Taylor says, is their comprehensive mission.
"There are a lot of organizations that just do political advocacy, or service, or leadership development," he says. "Our focus is the synergy between the three."
Students shape the platform. They pressure politicians to increase funding for HIV/AIDS. They organize conferences and public protests and help educate everyone from reporters to other students.
As the director, Taylor works full-time with volunteers in their Cambridge office. He also hits the road to spread the HIV/AIDS message. Last year he traveled across the United States on the Heartland Tour with U2 front man, Bono, talking primarily to students. Now in his mid-20s, Taylor hopes to turn over the organization one day to a new crop of activists.
"I always want it being led by young people," he says. "I hope that I can build and train a new generation of advocates - young people who will take on the same commitment to social justice."