The National AIDS Memorial announced its largest and most diverse class ever of its Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship on World AIDS Day (December 1), with 17 students from across the country attending 16 different academic institutions.
November marked 28 years since Pedro Zamora, a Cuban-American AIDS educator and activist, died of HIV-related complications. He’d come to the national stage at the tender age of 22, when he spoke openly and bravely about his sexuality, his HIV status, and his activism on MTV’s reality show, The Real World.
Sadly, Zamora died the day after the last episode aired in November 1994. In response, the National AIDS Memorial created the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship not only to honor his work, but to help future leaders carry the torch of his legacy forward.
“This scholarship supports young people who demonstrate a passion for health and social justice and who are using their voices for advocacy and change,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham. “These students are carrying Pedro’s torch forward, pursuing careers and work that will have a positive impact. Their optimism, action and commitment provide so much hope for the future.”
The Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship is an annual award given out since its inception in 2009, and its major support is provided by Gilead Sciences as well as individual donors. Nearly $500,000 has supported 129 students.
“This is a truly amazing class of Pedro scholars, each making an impact on their campuses and in the community for a better, more equitable future,” said Alex Kalomparis, senior vice president, Gilead Sciences. “Gilead is proud to support this important program that is developing the next generation of leaders in Pedro’s honor in the fight to end HIV through action and advocacy.”
Photos of scholarship recipients are courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial.
"I aspire for my art to be the kind of safe space that [HIV/AIDS] activists made. A place that teaches words to discuss our lives, love to remind us we matter, and beauty to remind us to smile…. I want to tell the stories of my people, Black, Muslim, American people, and in doing so make us known…show all that we’ve overcome, the music we’ve made, the love we’ve brought, and show that our story is America."
"In the end, my hope is to give back to the body of social science research and assist in the effort to increase the amount of research on undocumented and migrant communities. I tell my undocumented story in hopes of helping my brothers and sisters, and with the hope that others will do the same, and the undocumented will be documented in history books."
"I believe that bringing stark social justice issues to the forefront of people’s minds — whether through the news cycle, word-of-mouth or grassroots efforts — is key to achieving health equity. It should be written in our legislation that equitable healthcare is a right, not a privilege."
"Aside from learning about my own identity and helping me come out as queer and gender-nonconforming, providing LGBTQ youth-led trainings to educators allowed me to feel heard while expressing the needs of my community…. The opportunity to lead allowed me to grow comfortable advocating for the youth in our district, which I hope to continue doing as an educator in the future."
"For Pedro to be diagnosed at the age of 17, and rather than be angry at the world or embarrassed about his diagnosis, he used it to educate and advocate. He was not afraid to discuss his sexuality, his status or be an activist. This should be a lesson to us all. I want to eradicate the stigma, fear, exclusion, discrimination and hate surrounding HIV/AIDS, and free those that have lived in the shadows of shame."
"As decision-making software has many applications in our daily lives, existing bias perpetuates inequality in education, advertising and employment…. By mitigating harmful biases, AI technology has the potential to provide effective resources, quality services and innovative solutions to marginalized communities."
"Developing a treatment for HAND is imperative for HIV+ individuals having the high quality of life they deserve. I am working on understanding the relationship between HIV proteins that infect the brain and the human proteins they interact with, the cause of the cognitive decline of HAND…. I am dedicated to improving the lives of individuals living with HIV through my neuroscience research and working in outreach to my local community."
"I plan to dedicate my life to serving people with mental health issues like the people that helped me through my own journey…. I work to elevate a safer and more understanding community with those struggling with mental health, especially in a city with a Latino machismo culture."
"After practicing law and fighting to seek justice within the civil and criminal justice systems, I hope to one day hold a position — either at the local, state, or federal level — where I can create a positive influence for individuals whose voices are underrepresented and unheard."