Shyronn Jones may self-describes as a “semi-private” person, but this lifelong advocate spends most of her time building connections with other people. From a distance, the 38-year-old may seem like a typical activist, but instead of aiming her advocacy solely towards the powers that be in Washington, D.C., Jones is putting it into the hands of the people.
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, after being diagnosed with HIV in 2001, Jones dug her way south to Atlanta four years ago, where she resides today. Jones was searching for a way to make sense of it all. Like many people newly diagnosed, she found solace in community.
She quickly found that social media was becoming an easy access into people’s lives. Two years ago, she launched the private (invitation only) Facebook group iKnowAwareness, which improves HIV awareness by supplying educational literature and offering constant updates on local events, news. and how to get involved in giving back. With nearly 3500 members already, her updates have spread far and wide, and in doing so, Jones has become a mouthpiece for the HIV community. To help fund her iKnowAwareness work, Jones has launched a GoFundMe crowd funding campaign.
But if you think her outreach stops there, think again. Jones is especially known for her customized goody bags filled with items ranging from educational activity sheets, educational fact sheets, hotline numbers, condoms, dental dams, lubricates, candy, novelties, hygiene products, and as she puts it: “love, compassion, and care.” She hands them out at events, even door-to-door — with a smile, she calls herself an Avon lady for HIV prevention.
"The goody bags are an essential part of the community outreach,” she tells Plus. “ I sometimes use interactive games to increase dialogue and for selecting winners. I imagine myself as an Avon lady for HIV prevention and literature. I understand how to intersect, and when I give a goody bag I try to care for the whole person as much as I can.”
Since her advocacy began in 2003, her reach has become widespread, bringing her close to people all around the world. But sometimes the single mom fears those connections come at the expense of her loved ones, essentially “pushing” those closest to her away.
But her occasional doubts don’t stop Jones from pursuing her destiny. As a Strategic Communications Action Team Representative for the Positive Women’s Network USA (Georgia Chapter), she uses her passion for communication to expand awareness of intersecting causes, including HIV prevention, Black Lives Matter, and the minimum wage Fight for $15.
“[Shyronn] understands the need to address the many social determinants that make communities like hers particularly vulnerable to acquiring HIV and that stand as barriers to good health outcomes: racism, poverty, homophobia, and other forms of systemic oppression.” says Jennie Smith-Camejo, Communications Director at PWN-USA. “Consequently, she is an activist in her community around intersectional issues beyond HIV. Her mission to educate the public and raise awareness about HIV shines through in all her work and activism. Shyronn is one of the most determined and dedicated women I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”
That kind of praise emboldens Jones, who tells Plus, “To be called one of the country’s most amazing HIV-positive people is empowering! I feel stronger and more confident in my profession as an advocate, activist, and educator.”
In the next year, Jones plans “to make the general public more comfortable with talking on the topic [of HIV],” by continuing to attend educational and testing events; and, she hopes, by getting a chance to sit at decision-making tables.
One can’t miss her at events, going door-to-door with goody bags in hand, or participating in planning committees, advisory committees, conference calls, webinars, programs, trainings, workshops, focus groups, or summits and lobbying. She’s the one smiling, laughing, and listening to anyone who needs an ear.
Like Jones once told Ebony, “Living with HIV taught me that I will never be alone.”
David Artavia is a New York City writer and founder of Real Gay Guy. He loves living vicariously through his friends. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.