BY AJ TRAGER
DETROIT – Every year the world gathers together on Dec. 1 to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS, show their support for those living with the disease and to remember those who have been lost. This year World AIDS Day Detroit has planned a day of events that will celebrate the organization's fifth anniversary and the 25th anniversary of the Ryan White CARE Act.
Worlds AIDS Day Detroit was started in 2011 by Wayne State University School of Medicine student Phillip Kucab. Since its start, the organization has grown not only in name recognition but has also established itself as the largest HIV/AIDS-awareness event in the city of Detroit.
For the first time since its conception, WADD has an official paid staff member, Executive Director Maxwell Cameron. Cameron joined the organization full time on Sept. 1 and is responsible for managing all areas of the organization, including overseeing the production of events such as WAD. He is the first full time paid staff member but is optimistic that the group will expand to include more paid positions.
"I think the thing that draws me to HIV (work) is the fact that it is such an intersectional issue," Cameron told BTL. "HIV awareness work often doesn't stand alone in terms of supporting somebody with HIV who may also have mental health problems or access to housing or treatment problems. It also intersects with LGBT rights and LGBT health. It's one of those things that we need to work on addressing. HIV/LGBT activism has always been at the forefront of changing larger policies."
As part of the 25th anniversary of Ryan White's death, White's mother Jeanne White-Ginder will share her son's story at the WADD Giving Breakfast, the annual event kick off that starts at 8 a.m. Detroit-area mayors, elected officials, community-based organizations and university and business leaders will all be in attendance to hear White-Ginder's keynote address.
White contracted HIV through tainted blood products used to treat hemophilia and was ostracized by his community and expelled from school because of his disease. He was regarded as an "innocent victim" but personally rejected that label, believing that every individual living with HIV/AIDS is innocent. White passed away in 1990 but not until he spent months educating the nation on HIV/AIDS. Congress passed the Ryan White CARE Act in 1990, four months after his death, to provide access to medicine and treatment for Americans impacted by HIV/AIDS.
There are approximately 40 AIDS service organizations in the state of Michigan. This year's WADD event, held at the Garden Theater, is produced in collaboration with a number of AIDS Service Organizations in the area including Michigan AIDS Coalition, APM/HARC, Matrix Human Services, the Wayne State University Adult HIV/AIDS Program, the City of Detroit Health Department's Ryan White Program, the Oakland County Health Department, HELP and a few others.
"Our partner agencies are key to our success; they help with promotion, fliers and print materials. We supply them with those items and they help let people in the community know what is going on on WAD. They also inform their clients and they are important to how we get a critical mass of people to the event," Cameron said.
According to the 2015 Annual HIV Surveillance Report for Michigan published in July, the state has approximately 18,800 people living with HIV. Of those documented cases 6,840 of those affected live in the city of Detroit.
Over the last few years funding for HIV/AIDS groups and research has changed dramatically and Cameron is thankful that the Ryan White Care Act was able to help so many organizations over the years conduct their work and help out local communities. Moving forward, however, he sees funding challenges for HIV/AIDS services as the HIV community shifts focus to other items and models.
"HIV and AIDS is a big problem and we need to be talking more openly about it," Board President Kucab said in a press release. "HIV is 100 percent preventable, yet we are still seeing 50,000 new infections each year. Overall in the United States, one out of 200 people have HIV, but it is three times that rate here in Detroit. One in four people with HIV do not even know they have it. Treatment and care is accessible, yet less than half of the people in and around Detroit who have HIV are being treated. We can do much better than that."
WADD will host two additional events on the same day following the Giving Breakfast at 8 a.m. A symposium will begin at 11:30 a.m. at the Garden Theater and will feature remarks by White-Ginder and AIDS United CEO Michael Kaplan followed by a panel presentation that will include voices of those who are living with HIV or strong allies who work in the community. Those guests will speak towards their experiences and what it means to be living with HIV. The Stigma Index will join WADD and discuss some recent findings associated with the community.
The event is a special opportunity for students and community members to participate in World AIDS Day and hear first hand White's inspiring story, as told by his mother. The symposium is free and open to the public. Those interested in participating can contact WADD leadership at http://www.worldaidsdayus.org/.
The closing concert event will begin at 7 p.m. and will include a headline performance by American Idol Season 8 winner Kris Allen followed by performances by Detroit's own season 13 finalist, Malaya Watson, and American Idols Melinda Doolittle, Rayvon Owen and Devin Valez. Tickets start at $30 with VIP tickets costing $85.
World AIDS Day Detroit is sponsored by: Hemophilia Foundations of Michigan, Walgreens, 98.7 AMP Radio, Wayne State School of Medicine, Motivus Health Care, Oakland University, BioRX, Color Me Rad, Between the Lines and Fox 2 Detroit.
For more information, tickets for events or to make donations, please visit http://www.worldaidsdayus.org. The Garden Theater is located at 3929 Woodward Ave. in downtown Detroit.