ROYAL OAK – AIDS is not over.
That was the overriding message at the 22nd annual AIDS Walk Detroit. AIDS is not over for young gay men, it’s not over for those already infected, and it is certainly not over for anyone who has lost a loved one to the virus.
Sept. 15 started with an emotional, solemn ceremony that featured the unfolding of 20 sections of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Arlene Mondak as she prepared to unfold the section of the AIDS Memorial Quilt containing her son’s panel. “You’d think it would, wouldn’t you?” she asked through her tears. Her son, Michael Mondak died Sept. 4, 1990 at the age of 27. Arlene and her husband, Michael, stood together, as they have at many unfoldings of the Quilt, with her heart breaking, tears streaming down her face. “If this is the price we have to pay to have had him on this earth, then it is worth it,” she said.
Longtime NAMES Project volunteer Gary Dubois was on hand to teach the 160 volunteers how to properly unfold each section of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Dubois first met Arlene and Michael Mondak in the early 1990s when the couple checked in the panel they had created for their son. They have stayed in touch over the past 23 years, and Dubois was one of the volunteers who helped the Mondak’s unfold their Quilt section.
“We have the first panel ever made – Panel #001 – and we have the newest one which in breathtakingly beautiful,” said Dubois. Each year The NAMES Project, a national organization headquartered in Atlanta, unfolds sections of The Quilt at thousands of places across the nation.
A group of medical students from Oakland University’s new medical school volunteered to unfold three sections of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
“We’re members of the Advocates for Global Health and Human Rights at our school and specifically we’re working with HIV and AIDS advocacy for mental health awareness. That’s why we mobilized all the medical students to promote community health and HIV/AIDS awareness,” said second year medical student Amanda Lynn Marshall from Fort Benning, Georgia.
“We’re medical students so we are interested in healthcare in all fields in all communities. So if we can help, we want to,” said fellow medical student James Payne from Midland, MI.
After the Quilt opening ceremony the large crowd of walkers began a lively, upbeat warmup session in preparation for the 5K AIDS Walk through the streets of downtown Royal Oak. Each walker was charged with getting pledges to raise money to support a variety of AIDS organizations in greater Detroit.
Mary Jane Nowak, vice president of marketing at Fifth Third Bank, had a personal goal of $1,000, but she said, “I actually ended up with over $1,600 this time, which is pretty good. I have a lot of friends who are affected by the epidemic, so I have a lot of passion about this too.”
Fifth Third Bank, a Silver Sponsor of AIDS Walk Detroit, has supported AIDS Walk Detroit for years. “Our LGBT business resource group at Fifth Third Bank gets an allotment of money and our inclusion council supports this event 100 percent. We’ve been doing it about seven or eight years now, and it’s a sure thing for us every year,” said Nowak.
“We want to give back,” said Ali Fakih, owner of Northland Medical Pharmacy in Southfield who led a team of about a dozen walkers. “People come to us all year long [for medications] and we want to be a part of this event to show our support.”
Organizers set a goal of $250,000 for the 2013 AIDS Walk Detroit. Totals are still being tallied, but as of the day of the walk they had already raised over $151,000. Walker teams can designate a specific organization to receive all the funds they raise, or they can raise funds for AIDS Walk Detroit to be distributed via a competitive grantmaking process. Last year about 45 percent of the funds were raised by agency teams, and the remaining 55 percent was distributed through the competitive grantmaking process. Health Emergency Lifeline Program, or HELP, is the fiduciary for AIDS Walk Detroit and oversees the fundraising and distribution of the competitive grants.
Dave Garcia, executive director of Affirmations, walked with a team that raised about $12,000 for the community center in Ferndale. “We do HIV testing at Affirmations and we have other programs that educate and hopefully prevent infection in the LGBT community. It’s not over – not by a long shot – and we have to keep repeating the prevention messages over and over, especially to young people,” said Garcia.