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New York AIDS Walk Raises More Than $6 Million for Services

by Andrew  Clark
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Thursday May 24, 2012
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On Sunday, May 20, the 27th Annual New York City AIDS Walk invaded the streets to continue its mission of preventing and fighting HIV/AIDS. In this year’s AIDS Walk, a staggering 45,000 participants walked six miles through Central Park and the streets of the city in show of support of the cause, raising $6,014,822 for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and more than 40 AIDS service organizations throughout the tri-state area.

"New York City continues to be the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States," said Marjorie J. Hill, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of GMHC. "With a cure still out of reach, education and support are critical to reducing new HIV infections and providing care for those living with HIV/AIDS. That is why, in GMHC’s 30th year, we are so grateful for the continued support of so many throughout the tri-state area that walk each year to help raise much-needed funds."

Celebrity guests included Nick Jonas, Wendy Williams, Keri Hilson, Dot-Marie Jones, Wendy Williams and David Hyde Pierce, as well as government officials such as U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who gave an impassioned speech commending the AIDS Walk and its participants -- a welcome endorsement from the once-silent U.S. government.

"GMHC has been there from the beginning. They were there before we even knew what to call HIV and AIDS. They were there the first day when men were dying in New York and San Francisco, and all across the country. I’m very proud to say that 30 years later GMHC is still here fighting against this disease, and will win the fight against this disease," said Gillibrand.

The funds raised by the event will provide essential and aggressive advocacy and assistance to people in the NYC area living with HIV/AIDS. It is an incredible feat for an event such as this to continue to be successful and relevant so many years after its inception.

The AIDS Walk originated in 1985 at the height of the AIDS epidemic, at a time when it was largely a "gay problem." It began in Los Angeles with Craig Miller and his team of activists, MZA Events, being the driving force behind it. After its inspiring success, MZA took the event to New York City the following year to find equal success, from which it began to spread across the country.

This is lucky because at the time, such movements were absolutely essential. Our nation was doing very little in the way of assisting those living with HIV/AIDS -- unless of course you count blaming the LGBT lifestyle. Indeed, it took years for public health initiatives to properly address this epidemic. This was quite possibly around the time that the mainstream American population began to realize that HIV/AIDS was not just a "gay disease."

MZA originally partnered with the GMHC, a New York City non-profit that focuses on the treatment and awareness of AIDS. GHMC, along with a multitude of other organizations, benefit from the funds raised by the Walk. With so many different levels of need in the NYC area, the extraordinary amount of good that has been done in the last 25 years is near indispensable.

"New York City continues to be the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S.," said GMHC CEO Dr. Marjorie Hill. "That is why we are so grateful for the continued support of so many throughout the tri-state area."

NYC’s AIDS Walk, along with those in Los Angeles and San Francisco, remains one of the largest events in the nation that works primarily to assist in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Since its inception, it has raised more than $128 million for local programs and services. This has been essential in the continued efforts to not only treat HIV/AIDS, but also in our strides to prevent it and research a cure.

Beyond the monetary goals and benefits of participating in the AIDS Walk, one of the most important aspects of the event is that it provides a face for the cause. And what is remarkable is that that face is no longer simply a gay one. Members of the LGBT community were never the only ones living with HIV/AIDS, but they were the ones that took most of the blame.

Such ignorant points of view not only led to further discrimination towards an already oppressed community, but also led to a devastating lack of education in terms of prevention in the larger heterosexual community. This, of course, actually ended in causing an alarming increase in HIV infections in heterosexuals in the late 1980’s.

It is interesting then that even while their own began falling prey to the hideous effects of HIV/AIDS, that there still was a shocking lack of action from within the heterosexual community. Across the world, ignorance and lack of education regarding the disease have engendered nothing but skyrocketing reports of infection.

While never quite reaching the epidemic levels that were seen in the 1980’s, it is still appalling that so many infections are still happening, especially when considering how many occur from sheer lack of awareness. So it is encouraging to see that the mainstream community has come out to promote the awareness that they sadly did not always have, and fight with the LGBT community against HIV. It is a touching show of unity in the face of one of the biggest obstacles we as a nation have faced.

There was an incredibly wide range of teams present at the 2012 NYC AIDS Walk. Everywhere in the crowd you could find religious congregations, commercial business employees, entertainment and arts groups, or simply gatherings of friends and family. It was breathtaking to see such a unified effort and was a brilliant reminder of how far we have come since Craig Miller initially set up the walk simply as an LGBT community event. HIV/AIDS are still very much a present and urgent threat, but it is hard not to believe that the end of the epidemic is near, when participating in an event like this.

"Today’s extraordinary turnout of supporters...shows that, as a community, we recognize that giving rise to an AIDS-free generation is now within our grasp, and we are determined to do so," said Miller. "It is [our] strong belief that the social ills of poverty, racism, sexism, and homophobia continue to fuel the epidemic. Today’s outpouring of support proves that the powerful community that participates in, and contributes to, AIDS Walk New York each year is ready to confront these challenges as part and parcel of the fight to end AIDS."

The NYC AIDS Walk will accept donations through June 15, via AIDS Walk New York, P.O. Box 10, New York, NY 10113-0010 or at http://aidswalk.net/newyork.

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