AIDS Action Steps Up Its Walk

More than 20,000 participants came out for the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts-sponsored 23rd annual AIDS Walk Boston on June 1, exceeding the number of walkers and runners who have participated in each of the last five years, and raising $1.2 million.

The reason for the record turnout, says Diego Sanchez, AIDS Action Committee director of public relations and external affairs, can be linked to the organization’s education and awareness campaign. The good weather, he added, didn’t hurt.

“When we are here on a beautiful day it is an opportunity to get people involved by getting them to walk,” said Sanchez. “The sunshine we see and feel today is the sunshine we have to give to the folks about  how to ease the suffering and reduce the drain this disease has on our families and communities.”

Bette Burns, a 17 year veteran of AIDS Walk Boston, knows the suffering the disease can have on a family. In 1991 Burns began walking with her son, John, who, the same year, was diagnosed with AIDS, and died of the disease in 1994. Burns alone has raised more than $250,000 since 1991.

“[She is] a truly exceptional individual,” said Rebecca Haag, AAC president and CEO. In her remarks, she singled out Burns’ “loyalty, commitment to family, and community.”

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said on Sunday that the best way to ensure Massachusetts keeps AIDS advocacy alive is by donating time and money.

AIDS Action, to its credit, is working to end the epidemic by putting in place programs specifically targeting high-risk communities, like the African American and Latino communities. According to the Massachusetts Department of Health, statistics for 2007 show that while African Americans and Latinos each make up only six percent of the state population, 28 percent of African Americans have HIV/AIDS, 25 percent of Latinos have HIV/AIDS, and 1 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders have HIV/AIDS. Statistics also show that African Americans and Hispanics are 11 and 9 percent, respectively, more likely to be HIV positive than Caucasians. For these communities, the rate of infection is disproportionally greater among women of color. For example, 50 percent of Massachusetts men who have tested positive are men of color; 83 percent of women who tested positive were of color.

“As an elected official who knows the impact this disease has on my constituency I was worried that once the faces of the disease changed there wouldn’t be the kind of attention and commitment,” said state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, (D-Boston), whose voting constituency is predominantly made up of African American and Latino families. “But I’m happy to say I am wrong.”

In the comments I made at the event, I spoke of how prevention must not be based in shame, guilt, or fear, but in our coming together to share in the responsibility.

“In our shared responsibility for the care and wellbeing of all our citizens plagued with this epidemic, we then can see the faces and hear the voices of those who have been shamed, stigmatized, damned, disinherited and disenfranchised by our misgivings,” I said. “When we ignore our responsibility, we perpetuate the “blame the victim” mentality, which is a destructive way of dealing with the epidemic. And once the blamed individual — the person with AIDS — internalizes the guilt, we as a nation have built our strength by riding on the backs of our weak. And this is not only an act of inhospitality, but it is also a symptom of a sick society.”

Since AIDS Walk 2007, an estimated 1,000 more people have tested positive for HIV, said Haag, who added that “it’s not over in the U.S.”

And while it’s not over, we can count on AIDS Action and each year’s AIDS Walk to show us a way to help. //
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Published June 4, 2004 in New England Blade.

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