Photo Credit, Eric John
It is a cloudy morning as the 29th ANNUAL AIDS WALK kicks off, but the stories, the atmosphere, the attendees and the overwhelming support shined brightly today. Physical Fitness Guru Richard Simmons opened the event with a pre-warm up for the walkers.
Mr. Simmons adorned wigs and comedy to energize everyone and reminded us all that “through love and strength you can overcome your obstacles and achieve anything you put your mind to.” Newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was also on hand to speak and show support, as was West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land, who said she was so “proud” to be hosting this year’s event and that, “We as a community must come together and show support without reservation or fear.”
Several of your favorite entertainers were also present, including Drew Carey and Wayne Brady who talked about how great it would if we didn’t have to walk for AIDS because it no longer existed. Needless to say, everyone went wild! Pauley Perrette talked about those she knew and lost to AIDS and proudly showed off her sponsors on the back of her shirt. Acclaimed Broadway singer Terri White, embraced us with a song as a hint of the sun started to show.
But the highlight of the stage wasn’t an entertainer or a mayor, it was a courageous man named Raul Alonso. Mr. Alonso has been living with HIV since 1991. It was very quiet as he started to talk about what those early years were like, “I was very much alone, and no one wanted to even come near me. My family rejected me and no one would even shake my hand, but then I discovered ACLA and found life again.” The crowd roared and threw their hands up in support and Mr. Alonso got handshakes from everyone on stage. Then the massive walk was underway, as we all made our way down Melrose Avenue.
It was refreshing to be in a sea of different diversities and cultures walking and talking together. Hardworking volunteers gave us water and oranges, DJ’s filled the streets with music at several street corners, and cheerleaders…well, cheered us on!
But as usual, this event wasn’t without its critics. Making our way down La Brea, across the street stood several religious men, with Jesus signs shouting, “Jesus’s blood didn’t have AIDS!” I thought to myself, “ Well, of course not, they didn’t have AIDS during the first century but if Jesus was here, I would like to think he wouldn’t be across the street shouting; he would be walking among the crowd and embracing everyone with sympathetic eyes.“ Then three walkers went across the street and stood right next to this religious group, holding an array of red balloons. The crowd saw this and started singing and chanting “HEY! HEY! LOVE FOR ALL! HEY! HEY! WE ARE ONE!”, as law enforcement stood there and could only smile.
By this time the sun was out in full force and we were all feeling it. Luckily when we got to the Beverly Center, chocolate ice cream was waiting for us! It was around this time I wondered if I would ever make it to the finish line, but when you’re united with other people, and you’re coming together for one global cause, it makes you un-selfish and pushes you forward to keep going. Then, out of nowhere, we started to hear Nigerian drumming. I turned around and there they were, the National Association of Seadogs. We could all feel the beats as they pounded away providing us with last minute energy!
We started walking to the beat, passing Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and around San Vincente Boulevard. Then, there it was, the Finish Line! It was tremendous to see everyone in smiles and jubilee. Rested walkers taking to the shade or signing banners, others playing catch up with their group, and condoms being handed out like celebratory candy!
All in all this event was a success raising $2,133,464.00 at press time, but of course it won’t be truly successful until HIV/AIDS no longer exists in our vocabulary. It’s easy to criticize someone with HIV or AIDS, but it doesn’t matter how you get it, whether by lifestyle, un-protected sex or blood transfusion, no one is immune. HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. It doesn’t care about your religion, the colour of your skin, how old you are, how nice you are or how many good deeds you do or don’t do. The fact remains that it’s here in our generation, in our century. If you ask young adults what Polio is, they wouldn’t really know what you’re talking about and hopefully one day when you ask someone what AIDS is, they won’t know what you’re talking about either.