Programming Connection

Are you a baller? 

Toronto, ON

The Are you a baller? initiative, which took place in an underserved Toronto suburb this year, aimed to engage racialized urban young men between the ages of 15 and 18 in conversations around HIV through the language of being a ‘baller.’ Young men were invited to participate in a basketball game, which then led into a discussion facilitated by two male mentors from the community around the concept of a ‘baller’ lifestyle and machismo. The discussion explored how the young men understood baller culture, how that culture impacts sexual health decision-making, and the ways in which baller culture affects HIV transmission risk. Stachen Frederick, the executive director of BrAIDS for AIDS who created the event, noticed a lack of information on minimizing HIV transmission risk targeted towards young heterosexual men, as well as poor sexual health information in schools or between parents and youth. “In this culture, there are no conversations happening around HIV,” says Stachen. “The boys were aware of the link between engaging in sexual activities and HIV/STI transmission, but there was a lack of awareness around getting tested. Young men are a very interesting group to work with, because you get real, blunt responses.” Seventeen young people took part in the game and discussion, and qualitative feedback gathered from the participants showed that the evening was fun and informative. There are plans to hold similar events in Toronto in the near future with larger groups of youth. “Basketball is a universal sport, so you can engage many different populations,” adds Stachen. “Programs need to be different and creative. When it comes to HIV/AIDS programming and events, it is so much easier to engage youth with something that they are interested in, such as sports, fashion or hair…and then you bring in the conversation on HIV. That’s how you engage people.”

For more information about the Are you a baller? initiative, contact Stachen Naomi Frederick, founder and executive director of BrAIDS for AIDS and Weave in Consciousness at