by Jessica Carreras
It was an unforgettable night. Gospel music filled the air, candles glowed and everyone remembered why they still have pride.
Thursday evening’s vigil, held on July 24, drew well over 100 people to Palmer Park to say prayers and remember friends and family members lost to HIV/AIDS and cancer. With drummers beating away and gospel singers raising their voices, the group lit candles and sang and clapped along in celebration.
“This is sacred ground, this is holy ground, this is ground that has been anointed and ordained for such a time as this,” said Rev. Darlene Franklin of Full Truth Ministries.
Hank Millbourne also made comments about the sacredness of the vigil. “This particular ceremony always has a special meaning for me, particularly as a person who is living with HIV and has been living with HIV for the past 20 years,” he said. “HIV, for me, is something that is personal. It’s a personal thing. I say that because this is serious, what we do, remembering not only those who have went on, but those who continue to live with this disease. We celebrate their lives, too.”
After Millbourne spoke, Hattie Alexander of New Birth Assembly led the group in prayer.
This year, according to Franklin, was a groundbreaking one for the vigil that erased the divide between cities and races. Franklin spoke of the transition of organizations like AIDS Partnership Michigan into Detroit and the division that has existed between the two sides of Eight Mile Road. “This year is very special to me to invite two of my brothers – one, as we call, from ‘over Eight Mile,'” said Franklin, referring to Rev. Mark Bidwell from MCC Detroit and Pastor Matthew Boden of Spirit of Hope Church. “Can we kill that Eight Mile divide? Can we stop saying that?
“For me, in my heart, there is no Eight Mile. If this community is going to survive, we need to stop speaking that into this universe.”
Bidwell and Boden both spoke to the crowd, sharing their own personal views about pride. “We come before you asking – because we don’t always have it – for pride,” Boden said as part of a prayer.
Rev. Renee McCoy, who founded Full Truth Ministries, also spoke, citing new statistics that said that 88 percent of people with HIV are black. “HIV/AIDS calls all of us into a position of responsibility,” she said to the crowd after receiving a standing ovation. “It’s time for us to talk about a moral community. We think that just because the moral majority says that we are immoral because we love each other. We are not getting this disease because we love each other. We are getting this disease because we’re struggling with loving ourselves.”
McCoy also spoke about the need to overcome HIV and how possible she believes it to be. “This is our charge,” she said. “We survived slavery. What makes us think we can be defeated by a disease?
“I believe that we can beat this thing and I believe that we will beat it with love.”