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Chicago teen honored with national youth courage award
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2014-05-13

This article shared 4206 times since Tue May 13, 2014
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Jacques Agbobly moved to Chicago with his family from his native Togo, Africa, at age 9—when a family member sought treatment for HIV/AIDS, as well as better educational opportunities for himself and his three siblings ( two brothers, one sister ).

"This person helps me a lot. Whenever I hit rock bottom, this family member is always there for me," Agbobly said. "Since this person means so much to me, I decided to educate myself about this community. Through my learning, I also learned to really care about this community and those who are affected, those who are impacted. That's what drove, started my interested [in the subject], and how I learned all about the stigma [associated] with HIV and AIDS."

His motivation, dedication and drive for the HIV/AIDS community has helped Agbobly land one of three Colin Higgins Youth Courage Awards, it was announced in early May. The other award-winners are Ashton Lee, 17, of Manteca, California; and Edidiong "Didi" Adiakpan, 19, of San Antonio, Texas. The winners are recognized for their extraordinary personal leadership and advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ youth.

"The legacy of our friend Colin Higgins lives on through the advocacy of these exemplary youth. Jacques, Ashton and Didi each have shown a great deal of courage as they stand up and make a difference in their communities," James Rogers, board president of the Colin Higgins Foundation, said in a statement. "Their courage is apparent in their everyday lives as well as in their push to give a voice to issues such as HIV/AIDS, transgender rights or helping to de-stigmatize LGBTQ people in immigrant African communities."

Higgins was the screenwriter of such classic films as Harold and Maude, and the writer/director of 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Since 1993, the Colin Higgins Foundation has awarded more than 341 grants for more than $3 million to further the humanitarian vision of its founder, Colin Higgins.

Agbobly and the other 2014 winners will each receive a $10,000 grant as well as an all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles Pride and the Task Force's Creating Change conference in June.

"I was very excited when I learned about the award; it really is an honor, something I appreciate so much," Agbobly said. "Hopefully this award will give me the chance to help educate people about the issues that are important to me, and the money I received will really benefit me in the future with college."

Agbobly is now a sophomore at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, and he lives with his mom and siblings in Uptown.

This was the second time he has been nominated for the award.

"Words cannot really express how amazing this [award] is," he said.

Agbobly is an ambassador for National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day, where he volunteers as a fundraiser and speaker on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. He has participated numerous times in the annual AIDS Run & Walk, benefitting the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ), and has done several school fundraisers, benefitting HIV-related charities.

"To be a role model lets me help get my points across, that I can share my story with as many people as possible, to help get them inspired too, so they can help their communities. By being a role model, I think I can help change people's perspective on an issue, can get people motivated and going," he said.

Agbobly plans to eventually attend, and graduate from, college. He then wants to start a non-profit organization to provide housing for homeless LGBT youth in Chicago and then, ultimately, worldwide.

"Adapting to the American lifestyle was very easy for us," said Agbobly, who admitted that he learned much of his English from watching television.

But, "when I went to school, it was really hard for me because I was constantly being bullied."

Once, for instance, he was sitting by himself at lunch. Some students approached and asked if he was gay. Agbobly thought they said, "Are you OK?"

It was not a fun time following for Agbobly, who was bullied for his skin color, accent and the fact he's gay.

But now that he's moved to a new neighborhood, he is "so happy, with true, supportive, loyal friends," he said. "I'm happy where I am now. I'm so lucky to have family and friends who support me in everything I do, no matter what I do, what happens—and I really appreciate that."

In eighth grade, Agbobly produced an anti-bullying PSA, which was featured in Time Out Chicago, and he was asked by the organization "Facing History and Ourselves" to speak at its national convention. At the assembly, he spoke to more than 700 people in hopes of de-stigmatizing the LGBTQ identity.


This article shared 4206 times since Tue May 13, 2014
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