Amidst perfect weather conditions, approximately 2,500 participants gathered for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago's ( AFC ) 17th annual AIDS Run & Walk Sept. 23 at Soldier Field. This year's theme was "Live True. Be You."
Since the event began 16 years ago, over $5 million has been raised to help many organizations do their work.
AFC and 34 CommunityDirect partners from across Chicago and the surrounding suburbs are the fundraising beneficiaries this year, with 90 percent of the money raised going directly to these organizations. Over $360,000 has been raised so far and fundraising will be ongoing through Nov. 15.
These partners are Agape Missions, Alexian Brothers Housing and Health Alliance, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Center on Halsted, Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, Chicago Center for HIV Elimination, Dance for Life, Chicago House & Social Service Agency, Chicago Recovery Alliance, Chicago Women's AIDS Project, Children's Home & AID, CORE Foundation, Erie Family Health, Heartland Alliance, Howard Brown Health, Legal Council for Health Justice, Loyola University Medical Center, Lurie Children's SID, Men & Women in Prison Ministries, Michael Reese Research & Education Foundation, Midwest AIDS Training + Education Center, New Age Services, Night Ministry, Open Door Clinic, Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative, Pride Action Tank, Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, Puerto Rican Cultural CenterVida/SIDA, Specialized Assistance Services Inc., Season of Concern, Sinai Health Systems, UI Health Community Clinic Network and Youth Outlook.
Jeff Award-winning director Christopher Pazdernik kicked off the event with his special brand of humor. He also spoke about being diagnosed with HIV in 2009, adding that, about five years ago, he decided to get involved with this event after he saw an ad for it on the CTA.
WGN entertainment reporter Dean Richards emceed the opening ceremonies. He emphasized that the event's significance to the community is one reason why WGN has hosted it since its inception. He also called on everyone to vote on Nov. 6.
"We remember and honor those who we have lost in this crisis through the years, and salute those who are living healthy with HIV," said Richards. "There is still so much more work to be done."
"The AIDS epidemic has taken the lives of so many of our friends and loved ones," said AFC President and CEO John Peller. "What would the world look like if we were able to learn from and be inspired by the people we have lost? Their voices and vision have been taken from us by the most stigmatized disease on the planet. Today we are here to carry on their legacy."
Peller called on everyone to observe a moment of silence for two leaders in the community who have passed away in the past few monthsMarcia Lipetz, AFC's first full-time executive director; and Dan Bigg, Chicago Recovery Alliance's founder and executive director.
"We are almost done building a roadmap toward the day in Illinois without a single new HIV transmission," said Peller. "The campaign is called Getting to Zero Illinois and the goal is to end the HIV epidemic in the state by 2030."
Peller also told this publication that "we are elated by the weather and that fundraising is looking really strong. The support from the community is incredible. We are thrilled to have so many corporate and community teams participating. This is the largest HIV event in Chicago where the whole community is uniting in the fight against HIV."
AFC Board Member Craig Johnson led The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt presentation. Volunteers carried one of the two panels featuring Chicago-area people who have died of the disease throughout the crowd while Johnson read their names.
"Coming back from D.C. where things are tough, and being a part of this extraordinary event, gives me hope," said U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley ( D-5 ). "The common question I get in the time of Trump is, 'What can I do?' … [T]he answer is love each other through word and deed, and there is no better deed than what people are doing here today. After we flip the House, this should be a lot more fun run, because we are going to have the money to provide the healthcare and do the critical research to make this an AIDS-free world."
State Rep. Thaddeus Jones ( 29th District ) spoke about his two nephews who died of AIDS being the driving force behind his HIV/AIDS advocacy. Jones also called on everyone to sign the petition to have the state legislature override Gov. Rauner's veto of HB 4096. That bill would establish a Medicaid single drug formulary and provide access for HIV/AIDS drugs sooner.
The Chicago Gay Men's Chorus performed "Seasons of Love" and "True Colors" while Jeff Award nominee Donica Lynn sang "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Austin Head from Fitness Formula Club led warm-up stretches for participants ahead of the run/walk while DJ Harry Tyner spun tunes during the race.
First-place winners in the 10K race include Beth Mask in the female category and Ryan Mork in the male category. There were no participants in the gender-neutral category. The 5K race first-place winners were Vanessa Righeimer in the female category, Mark Begovich in the male category and Irvin Almonte in the gender-neutral category.
The event also featured free flu shots courtesy of Walgreens, a MillerCoors Beer Garden, free hot dogs from the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and many sponsor booths.
See events.aidschicago.org/site/TR to make a donation and https://gtzillinois.hiv/ for more information.