The event is free to attend, but as a special bonus, participating agencies will offer complimentary VIP concert passes to the first 1,500 people to receive a free HIV test running over the course of the month. VIP guests get access to a separate area where walkers will enjoy delectable complimentary nibbles from FM Kitchen & Bar and beverages from Starbucks.
Kelly Young, CEO of AIDS Foundation Houston, took some time to explain the reasoning behind the newest addition to this year’s walk.
“We wanted to do the honorary and memorial part where we talk about people we’ve lost and how HIV/AIDS hasn’t ended, but we wanted something for people who are living a positive life and to celebrate them too,” she said. “So we looked for ways to add liveliness to the walk, and we decided to add a concert.”
She further detailed the importance of the monies raised through this walk to the Houston area.
“The AIDS Walk donations help to fund supportive services, housing, food pantries, the prevention efforts…any of the things our government funding won’t cover,” she says. “We don’t have any local funding - it’s all federal or state. So this is our chance to provide local funding for these services moving forward.”
Despite the breakthroughs in medicine and social awareness, statistics surrounding HIV/AIDS still remain at an uncomfortable level, which underscores the need for accessible testing and organizations like AIDS Foundation Houston.
“In the nation, Houston is ranked tenth for newest infection rates. We still have quite a few individuals who are dying from AIDS, which should not be happening in this day and age. My goal is to have Houston be the first city to end HIV/AIDS, and the AIDS Walk is part of how we do that.”
Just like the walk itself, ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic all starts with a few steps. For Young, they include increasing education, providing testing and supporting social services. Eradicating stigma is also a big part of her vision for stopping HIV infection rates.
“There are still biases, homophobia, racism and all the '-ism's,' but they build a wall between getting people healthy. That comes from not getting people to fight a communicable disease,” Young said. “We can’t get in a shaming, blaming game about something that can change the effect of HIV in our community.”
Signing up to participate is free, and Young encourages people to find their own way to take part in the fundraiser.
“This is an easy thing to do in the community. There’s no minimum. You can donate $5 or get a team together,” Young added. “People do a happy hour the night before and raise their money that way. It’s about you deciding how you want to raise your money. It's a reflection of people’s passion and care.”
The AIDS Walk is also a rain or shine event, so come prepared. Five out of the previous six years, rain fell on the day of the walk. That served as the inspiration for the organization to provide umbrellas to people who raised a certain level of money last year, and Young jokingly refers to her nickname as “Typhoon Kelly” because of each rainy walk.
Young has gone on record saying she wants to “work herself out of a job” by reducing the infection rates to zero.
“I want to see AIDS Foundation Houston’s doors close and become a museum. Or maybe it can just be a blip. But that requires churches to step up, families to step up, and people who are not HIV-positive to step up.”
For right now, March 4 is our chance to step up. The AIDS Walk is one way we can continue the conversation about HIV/AIDS and take charge of our health.
The 2018 AIDS Walk takes place noon to 5 p.m. on March 4 at Sam Houston Park, 1000 Bagby. Visit aidshelp.org for more information or to donate. Participation is free.