AIDS Walk Atlanta and 5K Run: Now More Than Ever
By Craig Washington | 10/17/2013, 5:20 p.m.
Thousands of enthusiastic supporters will flock to Piedmont Park this Sunday, October 20th for the 23rd annual AIDS Walk Atlanta & 5K Run. The event benefits AID Atlanta, AID Gwinnett/Ric Crawford Clinic, AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta (ARCA), Aniz, Jerusalem House, Living Room, Open Hand, and Positive Impact. These agencies provide treatment, medication, prevention education, meals, mental health services, substance abuse counseling, research and more for those living with, affected by, and at-risk for HIV/AIDS in Atlanta. It is the largest single AIDS fundraiser in the Southeast also distinguished by the sheer diversity of its participants. There are few if any other happenings even in such progressive hubs as Atlanta or Athens, where one may encounter a black student fraternity leader cheering on a middle age white activist in nun drag. I have been walking the Walk since 1992 when I first saw Debbie Bryant Thomas, the HIV+ advocate whose statewide efforts increased the visibility of affected Black women in Georgia. Watching Debbie share her story motivated me to publicly disclose my status. Every year, the Walk convenes the masses to demonstrate their collective support for sustaining the vital response to this epidemic and challenge each individual to do what they can, to be their best.
AID Atlanta has enlisted two key celebrities to ensure media attention and assert the issue’s relevance as mainstream coverage has waned over the years. Miss USA 2012 Nana Meriwether, a bonafide advocate whose organization, the Meriwether Foundation provides education, prevention and health services in her native South Africa, will welcome attendees at the opening ceremony. The Black beauty queen noted “HIV/AIDS affects so many lives, and I am happy to encourage others to raise critical funds for AIDS service organizations throughout the Atlanta area.” American Idol finalist RJ Helton, an openly gay white man who won acclaim as a top 5 contender from the iconic show’s first season will join Ms. Meriwether and perform at the opening. The 32 year old Cumming, GA native first made waves through his powerful gospel performances, then by coming out in 2006 eliciting some negative reactions from his Christian fan base. “I walk for the millions of men women and children living with HIV and AIDS and for the millions of people this disease has already taken” says Helton.
Stigma associated with sexuality, HIV status, race and gender along with poverty, homelessness, incarceration and lack of adequate health care and education are critical drivers of the disease and its related disparities. The Southeast has the higher infection rates and more new AIDS cases than any other region in the nation. Georgia is ranked as the 6th highest state in cumulative reported AIDS cases. Kristen Petillo, Event Manager for AIDS Walk Atlanta, stated, “We need support now more than ever.” She is inspired by the response of over 400 corporate, community, friend, family, and faith-based teams that have risen to the challenge. “We are confident that we will reach our goal of raising $1.1 million this year!”
To register for the 2013 AIDS Walk Atlanta & 5K Run or for more information, visit www.aidswalkatlanta.com or call (404) 876-WALK (9255).