THRIVE SS started in 2015 as an online support group for Black men-loving-men (MLM) who were living with HIV in Atlanta, housed in private Facebook groups. In only six years, the group has exploded into a brick-and-mortar organization with more than 20 employees, 1,200 members, and a 5,600 square foot office in East Point. Since its inception, the organization has hosted hundreds of events, launched countless community initiatives, and provided crucial community services to Atlanta’s Black HIV-positive community.
Now, THRIVE SS is expanding even further and enacting more autonomy over how it provides support to its beneficiaries with its new social networking app, THRIVE 365.
“Facebook is very helpful, but there’s a lot of potentially harmful information that is transmitted via Facebook,” Larry Walker, the Executive Director and co-founder of THRIVE SS, told Georgia Voice. “So, we wanted to create a social media app that addressed the things that we needed.”
THRIVE 365 was designed to provide an online hub for Black gay men living with HIV to access help, support, conversation, and linkage to care.
“If you know anything about Black history, we were often taken away from our communities, our languages were changed,” Walker said of the need for community the app fulfills. “We view THRIVE 365 as a way of building our own communities in our own likenesses around our own specific culture. That’s an emboldening process.”
While the app will address the needs of this community, the focus extends beyond need to include socialization, solidarity, and intimacy.
“We endeavored to put support and community into your pocket,” Walker said. “You can go to this app and not only indicate that you want an appointment or need food or clothing or medication, you can also go to this app to say, ‘I had a hard day and need to see an affirmation that is specifically geared to me.’”
More than anything, THRIVE 365 is designed to be a safe space — which is why access to the web-based app, which will be available through the organization’s website on November 15, will only be granted to users who are vetted by THRIVE SS. Walker says this will maintain the safety and trust necessary for those experiencing the unfortunate stigma of an HIV diagnosis: “It’s such a stigmatized ailment, so we wanted to make sure the app felt safe for people living with HIV.”
While the app is designed for HIV-positive men, it will be open to all Black MLM. Users who are determined to be HIV-positive by the vetting process will have access to HIV-specific content and forums that others will not, but the app overall will be a status-neutral space. The current iteration will allow users to create posts within the app’s various forums, but for safety and anonymity, nothing will be able to be externally shared. As the app grows, Walker hopes to bolster more social networking aspects like photos, videos, and comments.
THRIVE SS’s other work includes self-love and acceptance bolstering through content creation; the organization shot and produced two documentaries, “Outrun the Sky” and “Colors on the Wall,” both of which highlight Black HIV-positive people. Their work also includes Project Innovate, an initiative providing microgrants and leadership development to queer people of color under the age of 29 who are establishing businesses and initiatives centered around network building, stigma reduction, and health promotion. The project is funded by ViiV Healthcare, the only pharmaceutical company focused entirely on HIV. P.J. Moton-Poole, the Senior Manager for External Affairs for North America at ViiV, told Georgia Voice that putting money behind young queer people of color — and THRIVE SS in general — is crucial toward addressing HIV.
“There is an HIV epidemic within the Black queer community, particularly in Atlanta where the [HIV] rates are three times more than the national average,” he said. “Certain communities are burdened more by the epidemic than others, so it’s important for us to use that information to recognize where we need to focus our resources… [We want to be sure] these men are able to tell us what they need as opposed to us basing assistance on our assumptions. THRIVE SS is a pillar of life for that community, so what better place to invest our resources?”
Through community building centered on acceptance and love, THRIVE SS is changing the landscape for Black HIV-positive and queer people, in Atlanta and beyond, to eliminate HIV stigma and build a better world for the community it serves.
You can request access to THRIVE 365 starting November 15 at ThriveSS.org.
SOURCE: THE GEORGIA VOICE