We are four 25-year-old people who carry many labels: white, black, and Latino; male and female; straight and gay; HIV positive and HIV negative. We are from different religious backgrounds and different parts of the country. There are more things that distinguish us from one another than make us similar. Yet, at our core, we are young people who have been affected or infected by HIV and AIDS, and we are deeply troubled by what the future may hold for us and our generation.
More than seven million people in the world between the ages of 15 and 24 have been infected with HIV. Many of them have already died. Our generation has inherited an epidemic that is killing our parents, friends, and loved ones, teachers, doctors, and role models.
In helping to prepare this report, we heard the voices of young people who are living with HIV/AIDS. We heard from their friends, their caregivers, their parents, and their families. Facts and figures help us understand the scope of the epidemic, but it is these voices that help all of us understand the pain, the frustration, and the suffering that so many young people are experiencing due to HIV and AIDS.
We set out to examine the impact HIV and AIDS have had on America's young people. We spoke with young people whose lives have been touched by AIDS; with public health professionals engaged in HIV prevention, treatment, care and research; and with activists advocating for change. Each encounter brought us face-to-face with the realities of HIV and AIDS in the lives of young people.
We have met young people who are fighting for their lives and dealing with issues that most Americans cannot imagine at such an early age: their own mortality. We have also seen the fear and helplessness in the faces of young HIV-negative people who have grown up in the shadows of AIDS. And we have seen the tremendous courage of those living with HIV and AIDS who have used their own experiences to educate and protect their peers.
Our experiences are not unique and these stories are not new. For more than a decade, concerned professionals and policy makers have sought ways to address the threat that HIV and AIDS present to our nation's young people. Hearings and conferences have been held; reports have been written and distributed; promises have been made. But not all of those promises have been kept and it is time to sound an alarm.
We are running out of time. HIV is cutting a deadly path through the future of this nation. It does not respect nationality, social class, or sexual orientation. It has invaded this nation's cities, suburbs, and rural communities.
We cannot protect young people through ignorance. We cannot protect young people by denying that they are inquisitive, sexually active, or given to experimentation. They and we are all these things. Yet, with education, information, and skills we can protect young people and prevent the spread of HIV.
It is our hope that this report will open the hearts and minds of policy makers, parents, leaders, and young people. With strong leadership, a shared commitment to action and personal responsibility, and a compassionate nation we can -- once and for all -- stop this epidemic in its tracks.
We thank President Clinton for his leadership in the battle against AIDS and his willingness to focus on this controversial subject. We also thank Patsy Fleming for reaching out to young people for their ideas, their voices, and their leadership.
Bustos, San Francisco, CA