A small group of students, Ann Arbor residents and AIDS activists gathered on a blustery and bitterly cold Diag on Sunday for a candlelight vigil for people who have died of AIDS.
The vigil was one event held for World AIDS Week, a series of rallies, advocacy workshops, panels and film screenings aimed at drawing attention to the spread of HIV and AIDS in the United States and abroad.
“Somehow, a lot of people have forgotten about this plight, and we have to make sure we’re doing what we can do to bring attention back to it,” said Phil Volk, the founding director of the Washtenaw Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, an organization whose volunteers assist those with HIV and AIDS and who co-sponsored the evening’s event.
The weeklong series of events, which began on Monday with a celebration of the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, was sponsored by a coalition of campus and community groups including the Spectrum Center, which was formerly known as the University’s LGBT center; the Ypsilanti-based HIV/AIDS Resource Center, or HARC; the University Health Service, and student groups including the Black Student Union, the Lambda Theta Phi and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternities and the Latino Students Organization.
On Friday night, in an event titled “Hear My Voice: The Truth About Living with HIV” held at South Quad, Leon Golson of HARC shared his experience of living with AIDS and working as the director of prevention programs at HARC.
During his talk, Golson told audience members that the best way to share information about HIV prevention and safe sex practices was not always speaking to large groups but making individual contacts with people.
“We’ve got to talk to people one-to-one,” he said. “That’s where the change is gonna happen.”
At the same event, a political organization named Results spoke to students about the importance of aid from the U.S. government to countries in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of people with HIV is high and rapidly rising.
Members of Results encouraged students to push for more aid to be sent to foreign countries for HIV prevention by writing letters to their U.S. representative, urging him or her to increase HIV prevention-related aid sent abroad.
Some of World AIDS Week’s events took a more artistic approach, like screenings of films like “Philadelphia” and “The Gift: Does Anyone Die of AIDS Anymore?” On Monday, a group of students performed several theatrical shows all with the theme “When It Hits Home: Effects of the Epidemic” on North Campus, with each performance combining elements of improvisation, poetry, music and theatre, while also commenting and reflecting on the social impacts of HIV and AIDS.
And on the same day, author Honor Moore read from her book “The Bishop’s Daughter,” which was named an “Editor’s Choice” by The New York Times and selected by the National Book Critics Circle as part of their “Good Reads” recommended reading list, as part of Day With(out) Art, a day of remembrance and mourning among artists about the spread of AIDS.
School of Public Health student Carrie Rheingans, a co-chair of World AIDS Week, said yesterday she thought this year’s series of events and programs had improved in quality since last year.
She also said she was pleased to see so many students eager to attend and participate in the events, but added that these same students were now asking her how to get involved in HIV and AIDS prevention and awareness organizations.
“Now, after a week’s worth of awareness,” Rheingans said, “they’re like, ‘I’m aware. What can I do now?’”
Another organizer for World AIDS Week, Jennifer Chapin-Smith of the Washtenaw Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, said yesterday she thought the entire week had gone really well, and was especially impressed by the cooperation of the many groups who helped host events and plan out the week.
“I’ve been really pleased to see all the groups here together,” she said. “And it’s not just student groups but community groups like our own, too.”
As she sipped on a cup of hot chocolate at the Michigan Union before the week’s final event yesterday evening, a talk with leaders and members of various faiths, Chapin-Smith said she remembered the first World AIDS Day and the events surrounding it twenty years ago.
Compared to the 1988 World AIDS Day, she went on to say, the past seven days were “a huge improvement.”