Current Status and Future Directions of #YUP

March 26, 2019

Statement Regarding the Current Status and Future Directions of Youth Unleashing Power: a pozitive youth symposium

It is with heavy hearts that we must announce that there will not be a YUP symposium this year. We began a process last year of seeking new avenues for the symposium to be coordinated at a national level, and while those efforts are still underway, there are no plans at this time for a symposium to be held in 2019. In saying this, we want to express that we are still committed to supporting the continuation of this event and will continue to work on transferring the knowledge and experience that was gained over the past 3 years into the next iteration of YUP.

We want to acknowledge all of those who contributed in so many different ways to the symposium over the past 3 years.

But first, a little history.

The first Youth Unleashing Power symposium was developed in 2016 with a small grant from the Island Health Community Grants program, and tireless fundraising by the staff and board of the Vancouver Island Persons Living with HIV/AIDS Society. This includes the development of the Pants Off Dance Off parties, which continue to this day under the care and love of what is now the PLUR collective.

When the first YUP was held in 2016 it was the realization of a dream by Piotr Burek, to create a space for others that he had so needed in his own journey of being a young queer man living with HIV. Developed and guided by a steering committee of 10 HIV+ and co-infected youth from across the country, this event was ground breaking in Canadian HIV history as being the first multi-day symposium created entirely by, and for, positive youth. This key feature of the symposium, that it was dreamed, developed, implemented, and created entirely by young positive folks, cannot be understated.

Not only did this initial symposium have significant impacts for the participants, but it signified the importance of holding and creating such spaces, and in so doing, modeled a new way forward for HIV youth activism at a national level.

As organizers, the symposium was intentionally developed with this model not only to empower peers in the decision making process, but also to develop capacity amongst the steering committee. We dreamt of a multi-day, national meeting focused on providing a space of rest, community care, and direct action for positive youth that would travel to various locations throughout the country each year.

After the first year it was evident that the participants wanted the symposium to continue. Due to funding and organizational capacity, a decision was made by the steering committee that the administrative and coordinating work of the symposium would primarily be done by the staff at VPWAS.

In 2017 the symposium grew significantly, almost doubling the number of participants and adding an extra day. It was held at the Outdoor Education and Conference center in Cowichan Lake. Youth were treated to canoe trips, lake swims, and heart felt conversations around the campfire until the wee hours of the morning.

In 2018, with generous funding from ViiV Healthcare and CANFAR, the symposium was able to travel to Springbrooke Retreat Centre in Langley. Participants that year enjoyed a heated pool and a hot tub to soak in after long days of learning and creating together. Highlights from 2019 included a press release crafted by the participants calling on the national government to create and implement a national strategy on HIV, including universal access to medication. You can read this statement at youthunleashingpower.ca.

Over the last two years there have been a lot of conversations about the future of this incredible, transformational space. It does not belong to any one organization nor funder; the power of YUP is held in a national steering committee and the positive youth that open their hearts to each other and build a welcoming community in the span of just a few days.

While there are no immediate plans for 2019, we know that the story for YUP is far from over.

We would like to thank our funders: Island Health, ViiV Healthcare, YouthCO and CANFAR. We are deeply grateful to the ongoing work of the PLUR collective in creating travel scholarships for participants. We are thankful to have had so much community support, especially from everyone who donated, shared, and promoted the event.

We the organizers recognize the innumerable contributions, both in-kind and otherwise, from the Vancouver Island Persons Living with HIV/AIDS Society, without which this program would not exist.

And of course, we thank each and every one of the participants of YUP over the past 3 years. Together you have a created a legacy and contribution to the HIV movement that will leave a lasting impact for years to come. We are encouraged by what the future holds.

With gratitude,

Sarah Wilson,
Piotr Burek
Project Coordinators & YUP Co-Creators