Digital Storytelling: “Taking Root” to End Stigma and Raise Awareness

Content From: Stephanie Goss, B.A., Communications Manager, Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, and David Stupplebeen, B.A., Media & Communications Coordinator, Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness CenterPublished: May 17, 20134 min read


The Banyan Tree ProjectExit Disclaimer launched Taking Root: Our Stories, Our CommunityExit Disclaimer last year for May 19, the National Asian & Pacific Islander (A&PI) HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Taking Root puts the power to end HIV stigma back in the hands of the community through a community-driven, community-owned digital storytelling initiative. Since then, we have held four workshops in California, Hawai’i, and Guam, where A&PIs living with or affected by HIV produced their own true, authentic, and unfiltered stories about their lived experiences with HIV and stigma. By the end of 2013, we will have completed three more workshops in San Francisco, San Diego and Cincinnati, OH.

Asians & Pacific Islanders comprise over 50 different ethnic groups speaking over 100 different languages. We have always encountered challenges in trying to create a single, powerful message for such a highly diverse population. Taking Root solves this problem by including first-person experiences from many different people and perspectives. Together, the stories form a larger, more cohesive meta-story of HIV in the A&PI community. While all the stories may not resonate with every viewer, every individual will be able to find a story that speaks to them on a personal level. For instance, JaimieExit Disclaimer, a mother living with HIV in Hawai’i, shares the ways her sons help her live a fuller, healthier life. MartinExit Disclaimer, on the other hand, is a gay man from Guam who tested late and is trying to find his way through shame and secrecy to openness and light. All the stories showcase the courageous spirit and resilience of the storytellers. Watch Martin's story:

Equally important is how we get these stories to the community. Social media is a key channel in our distribution strategy (along with community events and in-person screenings), especially since the stories offer engaging, thoughtful content viewers will want to watch and share with their networks. The completed stories can be seen on our YouTube channelExit Disclaimer and are available to the community to embed on their websites or share over their social networks. We also post the videos through our own FacebookExit Disclaimer and TwitterExit Disclaimer pages. We use the hashtag #withoutshame to generate healthy, compassionate conversations about the videos and HIV on Twitter. During World AIDS Day in 2012, we held two Twitter Chats to premiere 10 videos produced in the fall of 2012. We have found that Twitter is a great tool to connect with organizations to share resources like the Taking Root videos for their own work with A&PIs.

While our Facebook page lights up during May, we make sure to highlight videos throughout the year to keep our fans active and engaged—after all, HIV doesn’t go away after the awareness day is over. Because the Taking Root stories cover a variety of issues, we also post videos on Facebook tying to other awareness days. For example, we posted a story about HatsumeExit Disclaimer, a young woman living with HIV on National Women & Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

While we have found success using social media to build HIV awareness, some challenges remain. Because social media is “social,” community members may be reluctant to share information about HIV with their personal networks. We can’t rely on passive posting patterns to draw viewers; we need to build interesting online events and activities into our engagement strategies to expand our viewing audience and social network.

One tactic we’re using is the live Twitter chat, hosted in partnership with other community-based organizations aligned with our vision. For the 9th observance of National A&PI HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we partnered with five organizations across North America and the Pacific to hold the #BTPchat series on Twitter, premiering new Taking Root videos. The goal is not just to show the stories, but also to facilitate and model healthy discussions about sex and HIV in online spaces. If you want to tweet about HIV #withoutshame, follow @BTPMay19 and join our discussion. The chat series started on May 9 and will continue every Thursday through June 6 at 5pm Eastern Time. Topics range from “Living with HIV” to “Youth and HIV.” See the full schedule on our website.

This May 19th, we encourage you to check out and share any (and all!) of the Taking Root videosExit Disclaimer that resonate with you or your organization. Remember: Saving face can’t make you safe. Talk about HIV—for me, for you, for everyone.