Programming Connection

Many Men, Many Voices (3MV) 

Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP)
Toronto, Ontario
2011

How Does the Program Work?

The 3MV program takes place over three days and two nights with 15 GBT youth, seven mentors and three facilitators. Mentors often stay on for various aspects of the weekend.

The bonding process established by the intimate dynamic of the three-day retreat begins at the very first meeting. The program delves directly into exercises and discussions that promote the exploration of emotions and feelings, facilitating community connection and sharing. 

Location

A private, comfortable space capable of accommodating 15 to 20 people over the course of three days. The event has been delivered in private homes and at a university where Black CAP rented an entire floor of a dormitory. While Black CAP prefers to run the program in a private home for the intimate atmosphere afforded by such a location, either option is acceptable.

During the entire duration of the retreat, participants are asked to abstain from the use of substances (including alcohol) as well as from sexual activity. This policy is designed to help ensure a safe environment for all participants with a shared focus on retreat objectives.

Recruitment and engagement

Facilitators

Facilitators must be trained in guiding self-actualizing exercises in a group setting. Aside from the Program Coordinator who first adapted the program for Black CAP’s use, all facilitators of 3MV at Black CAP have been past participants in the program who have gone on to receive training in delivering self-actualization-style exercises in a group setting.

Mentors

The program involves the participation of a number of volunteer mentors 26 years of age or older. Mentors may be past participants in the 3MV program, community leaders or any Black GMT man who has successfully overcome obstacles and is willing to share his story with the group. Mentors from a range of professions, ages and cultural backgrounds were selected to represent a variety of issues and experiences; mentors included both HIV-positive and HIV-negative men. Recruitment typically takes place through word-of-mouth.

Participants

Black CAP recruits participants by speaking about 3MV to community leaders, by spreading the word through social networking sites and by talking about the program at events catering to community service organizations.

The majority of recruitment, however, is done through two peer research assistants (RAs) who are former participants in the 3MV program and who encourage participation by reaching out to men in their social networks. RAs speak about how they enjoyed the program themselves and how it has increased their self-esteem, helped them make new friends and created an ongoing sense of community among Black GBT youth. In addition to recruitment, RAs conduct intake and exit interviews with participants (see Human Resources).

Because 3MV is evaluated as a part of a community-academic research project (see the Evaluation section), participants are offered an honourarium (currently $150) for their participation. This can serve as further incentive.

When people express interest in participating, they are asked to fill out an application form and survey. These documents serve primarily to ensure that participants identify as Black GBT youth and that they are interested in participating in a program of this duration. Facilitators are also able to assess participants’ knowledge of HIV at this stage, which can help in planning sessions during the event. While participants are primarily young gay men, the program is also open to transgender individuals (both male to female and female to male). Each participant under 18 years of age must have a parent or legal guardian fill out a consent form granting permission to participate.

Workshop

The workshop takes place over three days and two nights, taking participants through a specific set of activities and presentations, which can be grouped according to four broad categories: meals with mentors, educational presentations, mind training exercises and special activities. For a complete session-by-session breakdown of the entire three-day weekend, see the “Course Outline” in Program Materials. 

Meals with Mentors

The entire three-day workshop is punctuated by meals that are shared together as a group.  At each meal, a mentor speaks to participants about his unique experiences as a Black GMT man and helps with the preparation and clean-up of the meal. The active participatory presence of mentors throughout the weekend promotes a heightened sense of community and contributes to smooth logistics at meal times. Each mentor brings a unique story and set of strengths to the group while contributing to the sharing of food and conversation.

Over the course of the three-days, participants are exposed to a number of different stories of resilience in this community context. Each mentor is asked to address some common topics in his presentation to the group (see “Mentor Talking Points” in Program Materials); however, each is also able to focus on what makes his story unique. For example, one man might speak of coming to terms with living with HIV, while another may speak of his experience overcoming addiction. Collectively, the combined experiences of five to eight mentors over the course of the weekend have a powerful impact on participants by painting a collective portrait of resilience through self-empowerment.

Educational Presentations and Exercises

Presentations and exercises carried over from the original 3MV program are woven through the workshop. These sessions introduce participants to content that is central to the core elements of the program. For more information on workshops, see the DEBI materials in Other Useful Resources. Examples of workshops offered include:

Black MSM and Dual Identity: Participants are asked to consider internal and external factors that influence behaviour change.

Spokes and Wheels Brainstorming: Participants are led to recognize the role that homophobia and racism play in their own perceptions of themselves and other Black and gay men.

HIV and STI 101: An overview of STIs and HIV and the risk factors for contracting or transmitting them. The session concludes with participants assessing their own risk for STIs and HIV.

Intentions to Act and Capacity for Change Exercises: Facilitators generate discussion on making changes to risky behaviours, engaging participants in establishing concrete goals as well as steps for achieving them. 

Addiction Workshop: An overview of substance use and substance abuse with strategies for harm reduction presented.

Mind Training Exercises

Black CAP encourages participants to “train their own minds” using a series of “scripts” to help them realize their own potential and increase their self-esteem. These scripts are woven among the other exercises over the course of the event so that participants have a continuous opportunity to build resiliency by practicing seeing themselves as good, capable individuals. Each day starts out with a reminder of the positive affirmations from the previous day and ends with a “going to bed affirmation” that asks participants to visualize themselves in a positive light as they go to sleep.

Following are summaries of a few of the specific mind-training scripts used over the course of the weekend to train participants to truly believe in themselves. All scripts used in 3MV can be found in the resources section below.

The Lemon Test: The facilitator demonstrates how easy it is for a person to create a scenario in their mind, such as eating a lemon, and for the body to respond to it – even though the scenario is only visualized in their mind (its not real!). Participants are invited to consider what kinds of scenarios they have in their subconscious minds that are informing their conscious behaviours and actions.

High Road, Low Road: Participants envision their future with continued risk behaviours and adopt strategies for changing them.

Power Circle and Anchors: Participants practice claiming for themselves the qualities and characteristics they admire in others.

Community of Choice: Each participant draws an image of himself. The images are connected into a circle, and participants are asked to sign their images as a contract to themselves and to one another for continued growth.

Special Activities

Educational Community Outing: About halfway through the weekend, participants visit an HIV/STI testing clinic for a question-and-answer period with clinic staff. During the visit, participants observe a mock Point Of Care HIV test. The visit helps reduce any anxiety participants may have about being tested for the first time.

Spiritual Affirmation: The facilitators lead the group in a closing ceremony with a non-denominational spiritual theme. The session aims to connect participants with whatever resonates for them spiritually in their own lives, whether it is their faith of choice, a traditional spiritual teaching or a personal reference or resource.