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MFierce! That's Us.

Amy Peterson | She/Her/Hers
Steering Committee member | Detroit, MI

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 Center 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: The Community AIDS Resource and Education Services (CARES) of Kalamazoo is hosting a condom gallery and condom art contest on Wednesday, November 30th. This is in honor of World AIDS Day. For more information on it, click here.

How did you get involved with MFierce? When the Center first received the grant from the CDC, I believe that José and Emily were asking around to see who from the State Health Department may be helpful to have at the table. Because of my history in HIV, many of the agencies associated with the Center like HARC, and Wellness, knew me, and also knew that I had made the move to STDs. With that, Emily reached out and asked if I would consider a role on the Steering Committee. I was honored by the invitation, asked permission from my supervisors, and was allowed to accept the appointment.

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 takeaways from using participatory processes? That the process is as valuable as the decision. The shared decision making builds respect, confidence, and buy-in across everyone associated with the project. By taking the time for discussion and process, the final decisions are truly tied to the mission of the project.

What is the most exciting thing that you’ve experienced while being a part of MFierce? The fact that the members of the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) are EMPLOYEES of the University of Michigan. This reflects their invaluable role in the project, and also builds their resume for the future. Having a line on your resume that says employed by the University of Michigan is very different from most programs that provide a stipend or gift card for input from key populations. The length of the MFierce grant, and the commitment of the Center to honest community engagement allowed for this to happen. Employing members of the YAB IS a structural intervention and this is what MFierce is all about.

When I talk to people about MFierce, I tell them… That serving as a member of the Steering Committee, my favorite times are when I am at the table and working side by side with the YAB. This is when I feel my professional experience and their lived experience come together to achieve the best outcomes.

“Community” is a word people use a lot but don’t always define. What does it mean to you? Well, I have worked in the field of HIV prevention since 1993, and as the wife of a man living with HIV for 24 years, “community” to me usually means people who are either living with HIV or working in HIV service organizations. Folks who come together to address HIV, and provide support to each other. Similar to the “gay community”, many of us in the HIV community have been pushed out, or self-selected out of our communities of birth so these circles are very important.

How do you define “justice”? Wow that is a hard one. Well, the root is “just”, and to be just is tied to truthfulness and fairness. Fairness for me is closely tied to equity. I believe our society would come closer to justice if we endeavored for equitable access to such resources as quality food and shelter, excellent education, healthcare, safety, and most importantly, respect. Justice for me is more moral than legal, however in our country, legal justice is an important protection when we are short on moral justice.

Is there anything else going on in your life that you would like to share? I am looking forward to 2017. I’ll leave it there for now.

Can you tell us about some of your heroes? My partner Mark Peterson, for working daily to help people integrate HIV into their lives rather than allowing it to take them over. Barack Obama, hokey perhaps, but I believe that he is a truly good man. When he has to make compromises that go against his beliefs, it hurts his heart. I am looking forward to seeing what he does for his next act.

If you could look into the future, what would you tell your future self? Don’t get too comfortable.

And the most important question of our time, if you were a crayon, what color would you be? Pink. Because it’s my mom’s favorite. :)

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