For the second consecutive year, "Live True. Be You." was the theme of AIDS Foundation of Chicago's ( AFC ) AIDS Run & Walk, which marked its 18th year.
More than 2,000 participants came together on the sunny, crisp Oct. 5 morning at Soldier Field to raise money for AFC and the 27 CommunityDirect beneficiary partners from across Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
These organizations will again receive 90 percent of the money and as of this publication date over $435,000 has been raised this year with fundraising ongoing through Nov. 15. Since this event began in 2001, over $6 million has been raised to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
This year's partners are Agape Missions, AMITA Health Housing & Health Alliance, Catholic Charities, Center on Halsted, Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, Chicago Center for HIV Elimination, Chicago House and Social Service Agency, Chicago Recovery Alliance, Dance for Life Chicago, Erie Family Health Centers, Heartland Alliance International, Howard Brown Health, Legal Council for Health Justice, Lurie SID, Men and Women in Prison Ministries, Michael Reese Care Program at Mercy, Mother and Child Alliance, New Ages Services Corporation, Open Door, Pride Action Tank, Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center County Children's Health Initiative Program, Season of Concern, Sex Workers Outreach ProjectChicago, Sinai/Holy Cross Strolling Bones, Loyola University Medical Center and The Night Ministry.
The Chicago Gay Men's Chorus kicked off the event with renditions of "True Colors" and "Seasons of Love." WGN entertainment reporter and radio host Dean Richards again served as the emcee.
AFC CEO and President John Peller spoke about all of the people who have been lost to HIV/AIDS since the epidemic beganincluding Michael Bauer who passed away this year and who supported the AFC in various roles for many years. "Their voices and visions have been taken from us and today we are here to carry on their legacy," Peller said
Peller also spoke about the Getting to Zero Illinois Plan to end HIV transmissions by 2030. He said AFC has partnered with the Illinois Department of Public Health ( IDPH ), the Chicago Department of Public Health and other organizations to achieve this goal.
AFC Board Member Craig Johnson led The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt presentation. Among other things, he noted that there are 48,000 quilt squares honoring those who have died of AIDS in the United States.
Jeff Award-winning director and advocate Chris Pazdernik spoke about being diagnosed with HIV in 2009. The onetime Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honoree added that getting involved as an AIDS Run & Walk participant six years ago helped him be open about being HIV-positive.
Artist/philanthropist/AFC Digital Communications Manager D'Ontace Keyes told the crowd he was a Black, queer, man living beyond his HIV diagnosis. He called this event a family reunion and an "illustration of what justice, community and fellowship look like in the flesh,"
Keyes also spoke about ensuring transgender people's survival so they are not left behind while also working toward Getting to Zero.
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said she was honored to be at the event and spoke more about the Getting to Zero Illinois Plan which includes increasing access to healthcare services that support PrEP usage, making resources available where they are most needed and increasing public health workforces to adapt to the changing realities of the HIV epidemic. She added that there has been progress but not in every community that needs it.
Both state Sen. Robert Peters and state Rep. Thaddeus Jones also spoke.
Peters said he was the lead sponsor of a bill to expand PrEP access to minors statewide.
Jones, who appeared onstage with his wife Saprina Jones, spoke about the Jones Foundation non-profit they started that focuses on educating students about HIV/ADS. He added that his three nephews dying of AIDS is the reason for his HIV/ADS advocacy.
Ahead of the run/walk, Fitness Formula Club's Joy Miles led warm-up stretches for participants and Jeff Award nominee Donica Lynn sang "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Lynn also said she is a nine-year brain-tumor survivor and lost an aunt to AIDS.
First-place winners in the 10K race include Cassandra Hutton in the female category, Jamie Hock in the male category and KT Hawbaker in the non-binary category.
The 5K race first-place winners were Carly Schuyler in the female category, Duane Castaldi in the male category and Kody Keckler in the non-binary category.
The event also featured music by the Lakeside Pride Band and DJ Harry Tyner as well as free flu shots courtesy of Walgreens, free HIV testing from the CORE Center, a MillerCoors Beer Garden, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile where participants and volunteers each received a free hot dog and sponsor booths.
See aidsrunwalk.org for more information or to make a donation. Visit https://gtzillinois.hiv/ for details about the Getting to Zero Illinois Plan.