AIDS Walk coming up
Last year, 300,000 people and countless volunteers walked in the rain through the streets of Washington to make a powerful statement: the people who live here care about AIDS. This year's 8th annual AIDSWALK is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 24, and event organizers are hoping that more than 400,000 people will show up with more than $1.7 million in pledges.
The Clinton and Gore families are serving as Honorary Co-Chairs for the event and Tipper Gore is scheduled to lead the procession. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and several members of Congress plan to participate. Many politicians will speak at the Walk's beginning and thousands of volunteers will coordinate the events.
Though forty-thousand people are expected for the Walk, only two staff members have been working on its planning full time. Walk Director John Miles admitted that the only way the event is possible is through the work of the hundreds of volunteers who work for Whitman-Walker Clinic annually. He estimated that almost one thousand people had worked on the Walk just this year.
It has been through the efforts of "people who, rather than spending the time that they normally would just going out and partying or doing their own thing, have dedicated their time to this cause," Miles said. "Without those people, this cause would not be a success."
The event is organized by the WWC, a District organization founded 20 years ago that now helps two out of every three people living with AIDS in the Washington, D.C. area. Though it began as a clinic to teach gay men about venereal disease, its program has since been expanded. The WWC operates an extensive HIV prevention program, a financial assistance project and a home health care project in addition to its medical and health care-related services.
The Walk, billed as a community fund-raising project of the WWC, is not only the largest metro area AIDS fund-raiser, it is the largest of any event of its kind in the region. Although many states have similar fund-raisers each year, Miles said that the majority of the funds go to the WWC and the remainder of the money is divided up among more than twenty-five AIDS service organizations throughout the metropolitan area.
He noted that while a small portion of the funds go to research and education, "the majority of the money goes directly into services." Direct benefit funding is necessary, he said, because state and federal money is not coming in at the same rate as the people. Although clinics do get more money than previously, patients are coming in at an even faster rate.
"Therefore," said Miles, "we're having to make up that gap with funds raised from AIDSWALK."
While Miles conceded that the primary goal of the Walk has to be fundraising, he added that it has a second major purpose: education.
"The only true cure that we have right now for the uninfected is education," he said. "The more exposure we get, the more people become aware that AIDS is something to take note of."
Miles believes that the average person would cite crime as the biggest problem in Washington, but he contends this notion.
"More people die each year in Washington from HIV and AIDS than from homicide," he said. "Even so, you don't see the public's consciousness being raised to that same level of recognition."
In fact, Miles says that the biggest problem with AIDS is that most people just don't think that they are going to get it.
"For so long there was a stigma about AIDS being only in certain communities," he said. "That is a myth now. It is certainly in all communities; it is no longer just an urban issue." He proposed that when people perceived AIDS as a disease that didn't affect their neighborhood or their lifestyle, "it allowed them to avoid thinking about it."
Everybody Miles knows who is HIV positive had that attitude. "They all said, 'I never thought it would happen to me,' " he said. "So it obviously happens to people who don't think it's going to happen to them."
In today's society, because so many people are affected and everybody has to worry about the disease, Miles believes that part of the AIDS message has to be to take care of yourself.
Miles also noted that AIDS has become increasingly common on college campuses, a fact that the AU organization, Students for Healthy Decisions, hopes to address. Junior Farra Trompeter is organizing several events related to AIDSWALK to promote AIDS awareness and to get a student group together to attend the Walk.
"People tend to think that college students don't really care," said Trompeter. "We need to show them that we do."
She cited the Generation X stereotype as the main perpetrator of that idea. In her own experience, however, many of those stereotypes have fallen through. In the Walk, many college groups plan to march together to further dispel the myths of Generation X.
"We want to bring everyone together and show people that this is not a generation who expects everybody else to do our work and fight our battles," Trompeter said.
With AIDS, she noted, everybody has to care.
"AIDS doesn't discriminate," she said. "It's not sexist, it's not racist, it doesn't care. It affects everyone equally."
The result of so many different people being affected is that people of every background are united in the fight against it. Trompeter sees the Walk as an opportunity "to bring people together with hope to further education, to do more research and to find a cure."
Trompeter, who participated in a similar walk a few years ago in New York found the experience "inspiring and enlightening." She is hoping that AU students will come away with a similar feeling.
"We're not doing this because it looks good or to raise publicity for AU," she said. "We're doing it to make more people aware of the AIDS epidemic. We want to get more people involved on campus and we want to open people's minds to the issue."
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Students for Healthy Decisions (SHD) also has many campus events planned around the AIDSWALK which will continue to provide students with AIDS information. The organization has weekly meetings, (this week's is Thursday, Sept. 15 at 8:30 p.m. in the McDowell Formal Lounge) and provides information on a wide variety of student related topics including alcoholism, drugs, eating disorders and AIDS.