The mood was high and the weather was perfect in Royal Oak on Sept. 20. An electric buzz and loud cheers rang out from the farmer’s market, where the 19th annual AIDS Walk Detroit was held.
It seemed somewhat paradoxical, however, to have so many smiling faces raising money for something that has caused the deaths of millions of our friends, family members and lovers.
HIV/AIDS is a cause that, by all means, should be part of our past by now – not something we continue to need more and more funding for. Funding from the federal and state government. Funding from philanthropic organizations. Funding from caring companies. Funding from individuals.
HIV/AIDS has been around for almost 30 years. For many of the younger attendees at AIDS Walk Detroit, that’s more than their entire lifetime. They have never known a world without AIDS.
So why smile? Why cheer? Why continue to work, year after year, to raise funds?
As Sen. Carl Levin noted at the Sunday event, “This is the 19th straight year that we’ve been raising money to defeat AIDS and HIV. We’re going to do it one of these years.”
It’s an amazing experience to sit back and watch a fundraiser for HIV/AIDS services, education and research happen. For Between The Lines, it’s part of what we have done each and every year of our existence. We have watched, listened and documented the fight against AIDS – in Michigan, in the U.S. and all over the world.
And more than just drug advances, funding changes and the wax and wane of AIDS organizations, we’ve seen both the most difficult heartaches and the most hopeful stories of the individuals who have been personally touched by the disease.
Not just in the ’80s and ’90s, when AIDS hit the hardest. But even in 2009, at AIDS Walk Detroit, people who still get choked up remembering those they lost five, 10 or even 20 years ago. People who stare at the NAMES quilts and see some resemblance to their own lives in the messages left on each square. People who still, year after year, come out to raise money to defeat something that has taken so much from them.
They continue the work because it has to be done. They continue to hope for a cure and an end to HIV/AIDS because they must to survive. They are courageous, tireless and optimistic.
The smiling, cheering faces of AIDS Walk Detroit – and for that matter, all other AIDS walks all over Michigan and the rest of the country – do not belie the pain they have suffered from the disease. They smile because they are not alone.
As each generation grows older and the youth who have never seen a world without AIDS become tomorrow’s leaders, we need to make sure that people who are HIV-positives, mothers and fathers who have lost their children, lovers who have lost their partners – the list goes on – never feel alone. Or abandoned. Or that they should give up hope that there will ever be an end to HIV/AIDS.
Sen. Levin believes it – and he intends to make it reality when he helps push for reauthorization of the Ryan White Act in Congress to continue federal AIDS funding. Those thousands of AIDS walkers believe it. And so do we.