Podcast Transcript: Education and Entertainment with Shellita Dillon-Coleman

The following is the transcript for episode 5, an interview with Shellita Dillon-Coleman, founder of She’s In-4 Tainment. You can access the podcast for this episode by clicking here.

 

Aisha

Hello everyone! We’re back with another episode of What Works in Youth HIV! This is Aisha Moore, the Project Director and your podcast host.

 

Today’s segment focuses on unique approaches to HIV education. Shellita Dillon-Coleman believes in not just educating youth about HIV, but also engaging through entertainment. Shellita brings experience as a radio personality and educator to help create theatrical productions that are both written and produced by youth. In this episode, you’ll hear how her innovative approaches have helped her connect with youth through the arts.

 

Here’s my colleague Narita with our guest, Shellita Dillon-Coleman.

Narita

Please tell us your name and a little bit about yourself.

Shellita

My name is Shellita Dillon-Coleman. I am the Executive Creative Director of She's in 4 Tainment, and She's in 4 Tainment is a special events and fundraising service specifically designed for nonprofit and charitable organizations. We develop homegrown interventions by combining information and entertainment to increase awareness. I'm also a Marketing Director for an AIDS service organization called Writers, Planners and Trainers, Incorporated in East St. Louis.

Narita

Great. Thank you so much. Can you tell us a little bit more about She's in 4 Tainment and a little bit about what inspired this organization and what you do?

Shellita

I was in entertainment, I worked as a radio personality and a television host. Then I started working at a local AIDS service organization, and I noticed that when I would go out to do presentations, when I turned up as She-Nyce, that's my radio name, then I would grab ... I held the attention more. When I would take songs and break the songs down into how a person could become infected or high risk for HIV, I noticed that the youth paid more attention.

 

I decided to do homegrown visual interventions because we were having the interventions where we would go sit, like sister empowerment and stuff like that, but we didn't have a visual piece to show people and to give people who were living with HIV an opportunity to tell their story, it was therapeutic for them. We used it as art therapy and we started doing evaluations, and we noticed that more people would get tested through these visual interventions and the visual intervention was just telling a story, but entertaining at the same time, but increasing awareness in regards to whether it's LGBTQ awareness or unplanned pregnancy, stuff like that...it was really successful.

Narita

Kind of an innovative way to provide information that has been around for a while, but maybe hasn't reached the populations that you're working with.

Shellita

Exactly.

Narita

Tell me a little bit more about the community that you're in and the community that you're reaching? Just to kind of give our listeners an idea of where you're coming from, and why it is so important to continue this education through entertainment where you are.

Shellita

I have different populations that I work in. I work at Writers, Planners and Trainers, WPT. We work with LGBTQ youth, mainly same gender-loving and transgender, African American, ages 16 up to like 35, because we are funded through a SAMHSA grant. We do a lot of balls and stuff, you know, things to get the youth tested there. I've written a play specifically for them called, "The MisEducation of HIStory; ALL tea NO shade." Then the other population that I work with are young adult women. Well, women and girls. They could be anywhere from 13 to 55 as far as the age range that I work with for prevention with high-risk African American women.

Narita

For anyone who’s worked with youth, I think one common challenge can be recruiting. How do you go about encouraging them to attend your event to learn more and then to come back or tell their friends?

Shellita

We really empower our youth and listen to them. We allow them to help plan the events with our guidance to make sure policies and procedures are in place. We do not put the biggest emphasis on HIV and AIDS, so, you know, if we're dealing with a high-risk population and they listen to rap music or they watch, you know, Love & Hip Hop and stuff like that, then we kind of cater our events towards them because we understand that it's not about us, it's about reaching the targeted population. Small emphasis on HIV and AIDS as far as promotion goes, but higher of entertainment.

Narita

Can you give some examples about ... Like of some these interventions, whether it’s through music or theater? How are they connecting with youth? And you mentioned that they're also involved, so maybe some examples of how they're involved and how you nurture that experience for them.

Shellita

Well, with "The MisEducation Of HIStory; ALL tea NO shade," the thought came about because a lot of the youth would like to come into my office. They would gravitate towards me and I would hear some of the stories and I was like amazed at all of the issues and things that they were dealing with, you know, coming out as a transgender or whether it was just being a black gay male. I asked them to start writing their stories and that was part of the therapeutic piece for them.

 

The stories with "MisEducation of HIStory; ALL tea NO shade," we have a diverse group of people that come together.

Shellita

It's the mother of a transgender telling the story of how hard it was to see the police pick on her child and that her child had to move somewhere else and how hard it was on her and how she advocated for her child. (Add Pause) It was the story of a young guy coming out to his family that kept telling him, "You're not gay. You're just confused" and being brave enough to do this.

Shellita

We started out with it being an individual story, then it started with group therapy because when we would do the rehearsals, you may have some people who are not as comfortable with sharing their story or being in the skin that they're in and so you have the other group of people. Some people may already be there and so they're pushing each other along the way. We call that the group therapy piece.

 

Then once they did the play, the audience, they were the teachers and the audience was there watching them, listening to them, clapping for them. That empowered them and so, you know, they were part of the helping to set up the scenery. They helped along the way with the whole thing: the advertising, the promotion, the marketing. We involved them in every piece of it because that's not my life. I am a heterosexual, African American woman, so I had to rely on them, their stories, what they saw this as. I just saw the vision.

Narita

I love that you included the intergenerational approach where you have a mother whose advocating for her child and what a great perspective to bring to youth as well, to see both sides.

Narita

What do you think has most greatly attributed to the success of this project and this, I would say… innovative approach to addressing a problem that affects thousands of youth in communities across the nation?

Shellita

We had a lot of people involved. The opening piece, we called it the, 4 Divas, and it was the R&B Divas, and they would come out dressed in drag and perform. Open up the show. Then we would introduce the crowd to voguing because I respect voguing on so many levels. It's a lot of stuff you've got to do that I can't personally do. When you have a lot of people involved in a project, they take ownership of that project, and so they go out and they are the voices for you.

Narita

What about the response from the youth? What kind of feedback have you gotten from them?

Shellita

Oh, well, they're always asking, "Miss Shellita, when are we doing it again?" They love it and they want to do other things.

Shellita

You have to offer different things and continue to look for other markets because it'll dry up. If you're in a small city and you keep getting the same people over and over again, then you're not reaching your scopes because we, as professionals, we have scopes as well.

Shellita

I want professionals to get out of your head. That's the biggest message that I can give to you. A lot of things that I do in some of the plays, I allow them to express themselves, however they want to express themselves because it's their story and it's them. A lot of times, when we're in policy-making roles, what may feel uncomfortable for us, we hinder the process. For our professionals, this is not about you. You are educated, you're knowledgeable. But if it's for the youth, then allow them to be who they are and express themselves.

Narita

What advice would you give to other community leaders or folks that might be listening to this episode, that want to start something similar and create something similar to what you've done in your community? What advice would you have for them as far as starting off or even tips on how to engage youth and make sure that what you're providing meets their needs?

Shellita

Well, the first thing they have to do is be authentic because most of us can tell is someone's in it for the wrong reasons. As long as you come to the youth, if you are in an authority position authentically, and I was educated every day. I asked questions though. I didn't let something go by and not know what it was, so I had to stay current.

Shellita

Then passion because when you're passionate about what you're doing, everyone can pick up on that, and that comes with being authentic. Okay, I may not know about this, but I care about this issue. What can we do? How can we help you? A lot of times, just to gain the trust of the youth, they just need somebody to listen to.

Narita

I wanted to kind of round out here by talking a little bit about your vision. What is your vision for adolescent health and HIV prevention and education?

Shellita

My vision is, you know, with the biomedical and prevention and care and the marriage of it and everything, is that it does not become so sterile. I feel like that's how I felt as a person who worked in prevention for so long and then the new umbrella came up and it started to feel a little medical with it, especially with the biomedical term. My vision is for it to remain youth-friendly.

Shellita

It's surprises me the amount of youth that really care, but do not have the tools. I think that's what we're missing a lot of times.

Narita

Great. Well, thank you so much. I think that you've really presented a unique way to connect to youth at a different level and at a level that they are passionate and excited about. I think that definitely goes to show as to why they're coming back and asking to do more. If you don't mind sharing, I wonder if there is a resource that listeners can either see or view online that gives an example of either some of the plays or any of the music that's been created through the program? Is there anything like that that's available?

Shellita

Actually they can go on YouTube and the name is Shellita, SHELLITA, and then it's she, SHE nyce, NYCE, Dillon, DILLON. If they type in Google, Shellita She Nice Dillon on YouTube then you'll see I have documentaries and different trailers of some of my plays.

Narita

Thank you.

Shellita

Bye-bye.

Aisha

Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode. You just heard some great ideas on how to engage with youth, and thank you to Shellita for sharing with us today.

 

To learn more about Shellita Dillon-Coleman’s work, visit whatworksinyouthhiv.org and check out our Stories from the Field section. In that section, you can listen to more interviews with your peers who work with youth to prevent HIV. So please visit our website, whatworksinyouthhiv.org or our SoundCloud page.

 

Page last updated: February 2018