POZ Exclusives : Kim Ford and De’Von Christopher “Get Down” to Fight HIV Among Youth - by Kate Ferguson

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June 7, 2010

Kim Ford and De’Von Christopher “Get Down” to Fight HIV Among Youth

by Kate Ferguson

Former media marketing veterans Kim Ford and De’Von Christopher create cutting-edge video PSAs with a compelling message geared to young people.


Done in the format of public service announcements, “Get Down” is an online video campaign created by New Yorkers Kim Ford and De’Von Christopher. The spots show sexually active young people of various sexual identities as they deal with the consequences of their intimate experiments with multiple sexual partners. The PSAs currently air on YouTube, Dailymotion, Vimeo and Metacafe.

What motivated you to launch the “Get Down” campaign?

Kim Ford: What returned my attention to HIV/AIDS, specifically among young people, was when my 16-year-old goddaughter posted this entry titled “Coming Out” on a blog site called Teen Diaries. Her article was about what was going on in her high school at the time. She talked about sexual identity and sexual behavior and the [unofficial] practice in her high school to separate gay or lesbian youth [from the rest of the school population]—not only for their own safety, but sometimes because, as she put it, “If the gay guys hit on straight guys, it would cause problems.” She also talked about HIV and AIDS and young people having sex and experimenting with multiple sexual partners. This article was a wake-up call for me because she grew up watching me during the past decade, much like a lot of other young people grew up watching other family members. I just didn’t feel that we have been talking about HIV/AIDS enough. People of my generation have younger people in our homes and in our care, and they look to us as influences. I felt like I needed to stand up and do something and maybe find other like-minded people, like De’Von, who wanted to stand up with me and talk about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. The “Get Down” campaign came out of that.

De’Von Christopher: When Kim came to me with this project, I immediately wanted to hop on it because it brought me back to a place [in time] when I was a little more socially responsible and did more for the community for black children of all sexual identities.

I have a relative who has been living with HIV for about 20 years now. Because of that, my understanding of HIV and AIDS is that it isn’t necessarily a death sentence. But there was a gap between the time that I was in junior high school and now. I think that the HIV/AIDS prevention messages stopped with my generation. I remember a campaign that stressed, “Respect yourself, protect yourself.” That was the big thing in the ’90s. Now, I don’t know what happened to the respect or the protect. People stopped talking about it. So when Kim brought up the catchphrase, “No matter how you get down,” what that meant to me is, no matter what you’re about [sexually], take care of yourself. It just took me back to that moment in time when I was a teenager that I’d almost forgotten, so I wanted to get involved.

What were your main concerns when you began organizing the messaging elements of the campaign?

Kim: I did some research before I even started writing what the message was going be or how I was going to do it. First, I went online to see what kind of public service announcements were out there. I thought there was a great disparity between ads that were really super high-end and featured a lot of great celebrities. My opinion of them was that they mostly spoke at people, telling them don’t do this and don’t do that. On the other hand, I saw a lot of lower-quality, done-in-school student films—but what great effort. I wanted to find a middle ground that showed young people the consequences of their actions. I know that current HIV/AIDS campaigns focus their efforts on getting tested and I know that there are some campaigns about taking your friend and going to get tested. I think those are great, but we’ve gotten away from reality. What I remembered was the old [cause-and-effect] anti-drug use PSAs saying, “This is your brain” and, “This is your brain on drugs.”

The good thing about those PSAs was that they showed people if you take certain actions what some of those consequences would be. Also, I wanted to be inclusive. I didn’t want anyone to feel judged based on their sexual identity. I didn’t want anyone to be afraid to come out because of stigma and not get tested. The main message of the “Get Down” campaign is simply no matter how you “get down,” the only way to protect yourself from HIV/AIDS and [sexually transmitted infections] is to protect yourself through abstinence, but if you are sexually active please protect yourself and be tested.

De’Von: I wanted to send a message to the individual that it was his or her responsibility to go get tested.

How do you plan to measure the success of your campaign?

Kim: For me, the first thing is reach. Our goal was always to create a grassroots campaign, by the people for the people, and launch it virally. We didn’t come to the project heavily funded and with the idea of producing something very slick. I think when you involve people in the community in a project from the very beginning they have a vested interest in it.

We also wanted to do a campaign that was different and said something specifically to that demographic that maybe other campaigns weren’t saying, with an edgy message. So we wanted to get the message out and then see what we got [in terms of reach] when we quantified the number of impressions. Second, we wanted to involve young people so that they would become ambassadors and evangelists among their peers. I’ll be able to quantify that when school starts again because we’ve already started reaching out to youth organizations. I’ve been meeting with high school principals to see how we can come in to help classes and have a day within the context of their sex ed curriculum to talk to kids about HIV. Third, we plan to employ strategic partnerships [to do activities], such as condom distribution to the community that’s at risk.

Ultimately, we want to expand [via these kinds of partnerships]. Right now, Faces, NY, a community-based, nonprofit organization that provides HIV/AIDS education and outreach, is our launch partner. We want to be able to work with them and other organizations like them nationwide, to go into communities where budgets are being cut to help supplement organizations there with HIV education and information.

Also we have a blog. It’s a place for us to make up for what I think is a generation who has observed a law of silence about HIV/AIDS. If I can just help that one person to be less depressed about their situation, to know that having HIV is not a death sentence, to know that they’re not alone, I consider that a measure of success. For every one person who does write on the blog, there are many others who read in silence. They can go on YouTube and watch the PSAs and reach out. That’s what I think will show the measurement of what this campaign can do.

De’Von: I agree with Kim. I don’t feel like you have to win a campaign popularity contest for the most people reached to make a difference. It really is about that one person. If one person says, “You know what, I haven’t worn protection in two years, but I saw your PSA and that day I wore protection.” Or that one person may be someone who says, “You know what, I’m going to go be tested.” Or it may be the person who says, “I got tested, and I’m negative, and I’m going to stay negative.” I think the success of this campaign can be measured by the HIV ambassadors who reach people and influence them to make better decisions in their lives. To me, that’s really how you measure it.

What are the next steps for your HIV/AIDS advocacy work?

Kim: There is going to be a “Get Down” part 2. By no means are we saying that the scenes portrayed in the first part of the campaign are the only ways in which you can contract HIV. We know that isn’t so, but we just wanted to have a starting place. Part 2 will continue in the same narrative style, but it will evolve into what I call a docu-study. It will be a documentary with a study component, because I think that’s important to really take a look at sex, sexuality and sexual behavior among young people today. Study findings are important when we talk about funding and where the money is going because we’ll be able to look at the percentage of HIV cases, not just among people of color, but young people in general, and why in certain areas the funding is being cut. I think that we need to take a hard, cold look at the facts and see what’s going on out there with real people. We want to develop long-term relationships with nonprofits that are doing the work, and [we want to] continue to get young people involved and to create more brand ambassadors.

De’Von: For me, a large part of increased HIV rates among young people is a problem of self-esteem, so I created Bleu magazine to show a better representation of men of color—kind of like, take a message and put a pretty bow on it. What we’re doing specifically for HIV/AIDS awareness is we’ve partnered with the “Greater Than AIDS” campaign. We’re also developing a dedicated page on a website about HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. We’ll also have open forums about new medical developments and drug treatments and a support network.

Search: Kim J. Ford, De'Von Christopher, the Get Down campaign, Teen Diaries

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