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Thousands take part in AIDS Run & Walk
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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About 2,500 participants gathered Oct. 1 for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago's ( AFC ) 16th annual AIDS Run & Walk outside of Soldier Field.

Like last year's event, this year's theme was "Band Together."

For the third year in a row, participants were able to pick out a COLORband denoting their status at the event—green for corporate team, blue for rookie ( first time ), purple for AFC fundraiser, yellow for Community Direct team, black for veteran ( four-plus years ) and orange for volunteers. Participants were also able to show why they were running by decorating their T-shirts.

WGN Entertainment Reporter Dean Richards emceed the opening ceremonies. He spoke about the importance of this event and the advances science has made in helping people live with HIV in a more humane way. Richards noted there is still a need for more research, services and education especially since healthcare budgets are being cut.

AFC President/CEO John Peller kicked off the opening ceremony alongside Hamilton Chicago cast member Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Jeff Award winning director Christopher Pazdernik and AIDS Run & Walk participant and activist Armando Ramirez-Guzman while singer-songwriter Steve Grand, Jeff Award nominee Donica Lynn and the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus sang for the crowd.

Peller noted his late friend Larry McKeon ( the first openly gay and openly HIV-positive state Representative ) and what he would think of the current political climate.

Hopkins read the names of the Chicago-area individuals featured on the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt on display during the event.

Both Ramirez-Guzman and Pazdernik spoke about being HIV-positive, the importance of having a support system and erasing the stigma of the disease.

Fitness Formula Clubs Joy Miles led the warm-up stretch session for participants ahead of the 5K walk, 5K run and 10K run.

Peller and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley announced the runner/walker groups at the starting point of the race.

"We are so happy it is not raining this year and the weather is beautiful," said Peller. "Our fundraising has been really strong. As of this morning, we have raised over $415,000 which is well on our way to our target of $500,000. What is amazing about AIDS Run & Walk is our community organizations that use this event to build capacity and learn how to be better fundraisers from individuals and sponsors. We are so grateful to them for making this event possible.

"Rep. Quigley is a tremendous supporter of HIV/AIDS services. He is on the House Appropriations Committee that oversees housing among other issues and in that role he has been an incredible champion for the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS Program. That program helps provide housing to thousands of people living with HIV. We are delighted to have his support and appreciate everything he is doing to lead the #Resistance."

"Since the election and Charlottesville the most common question I get is what can we do," said Quigley. "I tell people the best way to react to hate is love each other in word and deed and that is what this event is all about. I cannot think of any other place I would rather be this weekend."

AFC Participating Community Direct partners receive 90 percent of the money raised at this event and fundraising will be ongoing through Nov. 15.

This year's recipients are Alexian Brothers Housing and Health Alliance, Austin CBC, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Center on Halsted, Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, Chicago Center for HIV Elimination, Chicago House & Social Service Agency, Chicago Recovery Alliance, Chicago Women's AIDS Project, Erie Family Health, FCAN, Heartland Alliance, Howard Brown Health Center, Legal Council for Health Justice, Lurie Children's SID, Men & Women in Prison Ministries, Mercy Michael Reese Research & Education Foundation, Midwest AIDS Training + Education Center, New Age Services, Open Door Clinic, Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative, Project VIDA, Puerto Rican Cultural Center-Vida/SIDA, CORE Center, Season of Concern, Sinai Health System, The Night Ministry and Youth Outlook.

Non-binary trans singer/songwriter, actor and activist Dani Shay ( currently onstage as Civil War Union soldier Albert D.J. Cashier in Stage 773's production of The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier ) hosted the closing ceremony, with DJ Harry Tyner providing music.

"With all this BS going on with banning transgender people from the U.S. military right now, this is a really important story to tell," said Shay.

First-place winners in the 10K race included Kimberly McClain in the female category, Brett Peterson in the gender-neutral category and Brock Thompson in the male category. The 5K race first-place winners were Vanessa Righeimer in the female category, Bryan Blaise in the gender-neutral category and Aaron Skelly in the male category.

The event also featured HIV testing and information courtesy of Howard Brown Health; a MillerCoors Beer Garden; and sponsor tables.

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