Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship
Created in 2009 as the “Youth Essay Scholarship Program” and renamed in 2012 as the “Young Leaders Scholarship Program,” the National AIDS Memorial Grove’s college-scholarship program has to date awarded scholarships to 35 deserving individuals. With major support from our presenting sponsor, UnitedHealthcare, $50,000 in scholarships have been awarded. Approximately half of the awardees are from outside the greater Bay Area, and in the last three years the program has become truly national in its reach.
In 2014 (with the blessing and the permission of Zamora’s family), the Grove expanded the scholarship program and re-launched it as the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship. Dedicated to the continuing legacy of AIDS educator and activist Pedro Zamora, the scholarship supports the academic efforts of emerging young leaders who share Pedro’s passionate commitment to ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. At the age of 22, Zamora captivated the nation with his openness, compassion, vitality, and charisma when he appeared on MTV’s The Real World 3: San Francisco (1994). At the veritable dawn of reality television, America watched this grounded, insightful Cuban-American immigrant leave his tight-knit family in Miami and move across the country to live in a house with six strangers — where he was filmed in close quarters, day and night, whether he was in the “Real World” house, enjoying the day with friends, talking to a roomful of students, or going out on a date.
Pedro moved to San Francisco knowing that, for the first time, millions of young people would get an up-close look at a young Latino who was openly gay and openly HIV-positive. Pedro leveraged this platform to address the sometimes competing needs of reducing stigma and reinforcing prevention. Viewers saw him living his life with joy and integrity, and trying to make a difference in the world. They watched him laughing and arguing and enjoying an active life with easily made new friends. They saw him fall in love and exchange commitment rings with another young HIV+ activist named Sean Sasser. And they experienced the very personal impact of the epidemic as he wrestled with a progression from HIV to AIDS, first with a devastating low T-cell count, then a late-night trip to the hospital with PCP. Pedro’s participation in The Real World was a strategic extension of the work he had been doing for almost five years. Soon after learning that he was living with HIV at age 17, Pedro literally dedicated his life to fighting the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic. His chosen mission was to raise public awareness and to arm other young people with the information and tools they needed to protect themselves against a virus that he knew would claim his own life far too soon. Long before The Real World, Pedro provided HIV education to thousands of middle- and high-school students in small-group, classroom, and assembly-style settings, also to trained educators and counselors; gave keynote addresses to national conferences of youth-serving professionals; battled stigma by sacrificing his privacy to raise awareness through profiles in major newspapers; and testified brilliantly, candidly, and bluntly before Congress on the failure of the public-health and education systems to be protective forces for young people during the most critical public-health threat in generations. Pedro’s work was tragically cut short when he died of an AIDS-related illness, in 1994, the morning after the final episode of The Real World. The Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship is meant to support and spotlight those young leaders from this generation, whose efforts and leadership continue to carry the torch of young activists like Pedro who fought the HIV/AIDS epidemic of their generation, in ways inspired by their own passions, insights, and conviction.
The mission of the National AIDS Memorial Grove is to provide, in perpetuity, a place of remembrance so that the lives of people who died from AIDS are not forgotten, and the story is known by future generations. As a community and as an organization, we always remember, but we also continue to look forward. We know that, despite growing misperceptions that the epidemic is contained, HIV/AIDS continues to ravage communities and cut short the lives and aspirations of millions of people. We are acutely aware that 25% of new infections domestically, and 40% of new infections globally, are among youth and young adults. And we believe that we have an ethical imperative to help create as well as support the next generation of HIV/AIDS leaders, be these doctors, nurses, activists, health-care professionals, policy-makers, or even philanthropists, by helping them as they pursue their education and careers.
Scholarship recipients — past and present — are engaged in a wide variety of HIV-related work both in school as well as within the chosen academic field. Some examples of this include: pursuing a medical degree to work with HIV-positive individuals; strengthening community-based peer-education programs targeting both high-risk and HIV+ youth and young adults in a college setting academic studies in the fields of microbiology and computers to pursue a career in HIV research; working in an international setting providing HIV-prevention efforts; entering into the business/philanthropic community to strengthen corporate efforts to help fund community initiatives; and studying to continue working in the reproductive-health field to work with high-risk young women and addressing HIV, STDs, and reproductive health.
Pedro Zamora’s life continues to inspire countless young activists through the syndication of the early years of The Real World, the award-winning graphic memoir Pedro and Me written by Pedro’s close friend (and roommate from the show) Judd Winick, and the 2008 feature film Pedro. The National AIDS Memorial Grove is committed to ensuring that Pedro’s legacy continues and thrives through this scholarship program, and that his life and example will be an aspirational point of reference for a new generation of young leaders.
The Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship is open to all current high school seniors, and college freshman, sophomores and juniors (ages 27 and younger) who demonstrate an active commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS and taking on roles of public service and leadership. Examples include (but are not limited to): serving in peer-education and prevention programs; working in the reproductive-health and sexual health field; pursuing a medical degree to work with HIV-positive individuals; international service providing AIDS-related care and/or HIV-prevention education; research in established and emerging technologies designed to mitigate the epidemic; or activism and social change efforts that address issues contributing to the epidemic, like education and drug sentencing reform, employment and economic justice issues, housing and homelessness. Scholarships range from $2,500 to $5,000, and award recipients are announced at the Grove’s World AIDS Day Observance on December 1.