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BY AJ TRAGER
DETROIT – Lead HIV/AIDS organizations, medical professionals, community organizers and metro Detroit mayors gathered together for the fourth annual Mayors Breakfast on Dec. 1 to honor World AIDS Day.
To commemorate and recognize the lives of family and friends, World AIDS Day Detroit hosted a breakfast with special guest Jeanne White-Ginder, mother of Ryan White. White was one of the first children to be diagnosed with AIDS; his name is on the Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act (the CARE Act), now called the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.
The breakfast brought faces like Dave Coulter, mayor of Ferndale, and Hank Milbourne, chief program officer at AIDS Partnership Michigan, together to prepare for another year ahead in the fight to help those affected and prevent further contraction.
Coulter, previous director of the Michigan AIDS Fund, has attended the Mayors Breakfast since the start and is glad to see numbers improving and interest in the cause maintaining.
“It’s important that our community leaders understand the effect of this in their communities and for them to be present for these events. A lot of people think that the epidemic is over, but of course there is no cure,” Coulter said. “Unfortunately the LGBT community is still the hardest one hit, but I appreciated Jeanne’s comments on the early days when, as a Christian woman, she partnered with gay men not because she had anything in common with them at that point except for a desire to fight the disease. That was a strong reminder of how difficult it was back then and now with the stigma around AIDS, which is still something we have to fight.”
Deputy Mayor of Detroit, Isaiah McKinnon, stood in for Mayor Mike Duggan who was attending a “My Brother’s Keeper” White House initiative meeting to commit to changing outcomes for young men of color in Detroit.
“I lived through you and your son, I lived through my family, I lived through Dr. Alex telling me that there was nothing to be done about this,” McKinnon said in conclusion to a personal story about a family member dying with AIDS. “But I also lived through the great number of people who are finding ways for people to live. We look at Magic Johnson, and he’s still alive.”
Thirty years ago, Ryan White turned 13 years old. At the time, White-Ginder took her son to the clinic for what she thought was a common cold; eleven days later, White was diagnosed with AIDS.
“We definitely saw the discrimination surrounding this disease,” White-Ginder began, describing her worry and fear approaching their family practitioner for more information, later connecting with Terry Beirn at amFAR, the world’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention and treatment education.
“I think sometimes we forget about the actual people. We hear numbers and we hear statistics but we forget these people had moms and dads and families, just like all of you. We forget that these people are struggling. Once you have AIDS, you’re just like everyone else who has AIDS; you’re fighting to stay alive.”
An estimated 35.3 million people are living with HIV worldwide, but despite recent improved access to antiretroviral treatments, the disease continues to claim an approximate two million lives a year.
White-Ginder spoke about the importance of sex education and heightening awareness of drugs such as PrEP that are part of the prevention answer. She stressed how vital it is to educate on transmission rates and be honest and open with sexual partners. She is concerned that the existence of HIV medication causes complacency, removing the fear of contraction from individuals. She wants to see more conversations about HIV/AIDS happen in schools, homes and religious spaces to eradicate apathy and to remove the stigma; is up to everybody to have conversations about AIDS to get the number down to zero.
“Over all it was a beautiful setting. I hope the message is able to get out to the broader community,” Milbourne said. “It’s always a pleasure to hear Ginder talk and take us back to the early days. I appreciated her saying that it’s not numbers, it’s people that we’re talking about. That meant a lot to hear that. And for them to have a moment of silence to remember the people who we have lost.”
There’s much more to be done. Donating to local organizations like AIDS Partnership Michigan, CARES, HARC or the Michigan HIV/AIDS Hotline will not only help expedite the eradication of the disease but also have an immediate effect on the lives of those affected. Visit the Pridesource Yellow Pages at www.pridesource.com/directory.html for a complete listing of local HIV/AIDS organizations.