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MFierce! That's Us.

Zachary Crutchfield | He/His/Him & They/Them/Their
Youth Advisory Board Member | East Lansing but coming to Ann Arbor soon!

Michigan Forward in Enhancing Research and Community Equity (MFierce), is a partnership of community organizations, youth advocates, and public health researchers working together to reduce STIs among young sexual and gender minority youth in Southeast Michigan. MFierce is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Community Approaches to Reducing STIs Program and is a project of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

MFierce is a coalition that utilizes a shared decision-making process among all partners to address STIs in our region. MFierce is comprised of three entities; a SexLab team, a group of Youth Advisory Board (YAB) members who are youth advocates, ages 20-30, and a Steering Committee of organization and agency representatives. We are currently implementing the Health Access Initiative, a LGBTQ+ cultural responsiveness training and technical assistance program for local clinics and health centers. Our second initiative is developing the Advocacy Collective, a LGBTQ+ youth health advocate organization.

In the spirit of promoting LGBTQ+ affirming resources and services, check out this great event this month: One of MFierce’s partner organizations, LGBT Detroit is hosting their Hotter Than July events July 26 – 31. For more information on it, click here.

How did you get involved with MFierce? Honestly, I got a message from an advisor at U of M-Flint about a new job opportunity for LGBTQ college ages people to get involved in. I have always been interested in doing research and working with the community and this seemed like the perfect match. I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

The MFierce Coalition uses a community-engaged approach where decision-making is shared among the three entities. That sounds complex. What are the most important take aways from using participatory processes? Take the time to listen and be respectful when someone is talking about their lives experience. MFierce is an amazing coalition of people who all come from equip with different expertise based on who they are. It isn’t always easy but listening and taking into all of these different life perspectives has made MFierce richer as a whole.

What is the most exciting thing that you’ve experienced while being a part of MFierce? Honestly I’ve just been so happy to be able to work with the community and try to make a difference. Also the Youth Advisory Board photo shoot was really cool, that was something I never thought I’d get to experience because I’ve struggled with really poor body image most of my life. It was an amazing experience and really helped boost how I thought of myself.

When I talk to people about MFierce, I tell them… Mostly what I tell them it’s a project where academia, community organization, and community members come together to tackle the important issues within our community.

“Community” is a word people use a lot but don’t always define. What does it mean to you? To me community somewhat resists definition, it can be a very personal thing as well as something that exists independent of you. To me, community are the people you choose to build a life with. While not always directly but they are people who share goals, aspirations, maybe just a geographic location that everyone cares about, and work together to build something that everyone can be proud of and a part of.

How do you define “justice”? Justice is hard especially in a society where I don’t feel like we see enough of it. To me, justice is righting a wrong, not always through prison or punishment, but simply righting that wrong.

What else is going on in your life that you would like to share? I just graduated college and am in the process of transitioning to a new job within MFierce, one that is full time and will allow me to be more involved in the project. I’m also getting ready to move. It’s a very turbulent but exciting time of my life.

What are three adjectives that best describe you that people might not initially think of? Thoughtful, sensitive, analytical.

Can you tell us about some of your heros/sheros/queeros? Honestly I look up to older queers a lot, I’m a huge fan of Sir Ian McKellen because of the period in which he came out, a period in which being gay was simply illegal. Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are also huge inspirations to me. They have pave a lot of the path for trans women of color and watching that has been incredibly moving. And lastly but not least all of the academic heros, I won’t name them but over the years I’ve had incredible advisors and professors who in my mind are the real heros.

If you could look into the future, what would you tell your future self? I would tell myself to breathe, things will work out and if they seem chaotic now well that won’t always be the case. Don’t be afraid to lean on people when you need to. You aren’t a brick wall.

And the most important question of our time, if you were a crayon, what color would you be? Easy, violet.

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