Responding to the unique needs of youth during COVID-19, the Flint Public Health Youth Academy (FPHYA) was created by Dr. Kent Key, PhD, MPH, Health Disparities Researcher and Academic Outreach Specialist at Michigan State University. With $20,000 in grant funding, Dr. Key engaged local youth in a health communications campaign on COVID-19, racial inequities, and social justice. Funding provided an opportunity for the FPHYA to build a virtual platform to educate and engage youth on topics in public health, health disparities, racism, the Census, police engagement in minority communities, COVID-19, and other social justice issues.
“Often the messaging that reaches adults is in language that youth consider to be outdated and does not capture their attention or cause them to become concerned,” Dr. Keys said. “The messaging can be mixed and lack specific information relatable to young people, as well as images and manners that are not reflective of their subculture as youth.”
Led by youth, the communications campaign crafted messages related to COVID-19 and launched a #MaskUpcampaign. In addition, they created and branded FPHYA masks, made by a local youth.
The campaign centered on “A Youth Perspective Talk Show” and virtual billboards. Virtual programming was the platform, and FPHYA identified social media platforms they wanted to leverage to launch their health messaging campaign. They identified relevant talk show topics, potential guests, and partnering youth organizations. A talk show was held every other Friday night on Zoom, and broadcast live simultaneously on their dedicated Facebook page. All talk shows are archived on the FPHYA810 YouTube channel.
During late summer and early fall of 2020, most messages centered around voting, the Census, and the election. Photoshoots were held to construct virtual billboards launched on their social media platforms. Students participating in the program were inspired to educate, speak up, and lead others on a plan of change. From their voices: