AW1 Royal Oak Mayor Bill Urich and his family speak to the crowd just before the walk starts. Photo by Jason Michael.
AW2 The Levin Brothers – Senator Carl (D – MI) and Congressman Sander (D – Royal Oak) – served as honorary co-chairs of the walk. Photo by Jason Michael.
AW3 Don we now are gay apparel…. Photo by Jason Michael.
AW4 Photo by Jason Michael.
AW5 Taking a rest after the walk. Photo by Jason Michael.
ROYAL OAK – The reasons they walked were fluttering in the breeze. Written on large slips of blue, green, pink and orange paper and strung several rows high on a square frame, the messages formed a sort of tent of explanation, letting everyone know why the throng of marchers had taken to the streets of downtown Royal Oak.
“I walk because my grandmother is HIV-positive and my uncle died of AIDS … I don’t want anyone else to die because everyone deserves to live,” wrote Malcolm of Pontiac. “I walk because I lost my fraternity big brother to AIDS,” read another, signed by Rick of Farmington Hills.
More than 6,000 walkers participated in the 13th annual AIDS Walk Detroit on Sunday, each with a reason of their own, but all with the same goal: the end of this dreaded disease.
Senator Carl Levin (D – MI), an honorary co-chair of the walk along with his brother Congressman Sander Levin (D – Royal Oak), predicted that day is coming.
“AIDS is going to someday be like getting an inoculation for small pox,” he said. “That day is going to come because there are enough of you walking and raising money to make it happen.”
So far, this year’s walk has raised $300,000. It’s a noted decrease from last year’s walk, which raised $320,000, and the continuation of a slump in recent years brought on by post-9/11 woes and a wartime economy. But Ken Rosen, vice president of Steppin’ Out, the group that produces the walk, noted that it’s not over till the fat lady has counted the last penny.
“That’s not the final, final number,” he said. “I’m still hoping to at least achieve last year’s total. We’ll have money turned in for at least several weeks to come yet. But if we don’t get any more, I’m still very pleased, considering the economy, that we’ve been able to achieve the success level that we have.”
Dollar amounts aside, Rosen said he was thrilled with this year’s walk.
“I thought it was phenomenal,” he said. “I believe we had more people than we have in the past.”
One demographic that’s continuing to grow – and that Rosen is quite pleased with – is high school students. Rosen noted that there were 27 school teams registered for the walk this year.
“That’s growing dramatically and it I think it’s terrific,” he said. “It’s doing two things. Number one is it’s inducing youth and life into our walk, but it also proves that the need to address HIV and AIDS in the community goes well beyond the traditional areas and that more and more people are recognizing the importance of that.”
Indeed, the look of the walk has changed in recent years as families and youthful faces have overtaken it. Both sponsorship dollars and the number of volunteers and participants were increased this year, and regardless of the state of the country’s economy, AIDS Walk Detroit appears poised to be a successful Royal Oak tradition for years to come.
“We’re pleased to host this critical event again,” Royal Oak Mayor Bill Urich told the crowd just before the start of the walk. “And we note that every year the event grows larger, your commitment is stronger and eradication of this virus is closer.”