From left to right: Dr. Cornel West, Rev. Al Sharpton, Tavis Smiley, and Andrew Young.
By plane, train and bus, advocates came from all over the globe to take part in the International AIDS Conference and participate in the July 22 march to “Keep the Promise” to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, at a time when many nations including the U.S. are retreating on funding commitments, threatening to reverse 30 years of promise.
“The war against AIDS has not been won, and now is not the time to retreat,” proclaimed AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) president Michael Weinstein to the thousands of marchers who rallied in Washington, D.C.
Despite financial hardships worldwide, the struggle against AIDS must keep advancing, he said.
Roxanne Hanna-Ware, a HIV poet from Oakland, kicked off the program with an inspiring poem of hope.
“I am surviving, not struggling,” shouted Hanna-Ware to a cheering crowd. “I am here! I refuse to be in fear! I intend to live!”
Rev.Al Sharpton, Congressman Ambassador Andrew Young, Margaret Cho and Wyclef Jean joined Weinstein on stage along with Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, calling for the funding of programs that fight AIDS.
“I love all my brothers and sisters, straight, gay, all of them, transgendered. We have to get past stigma,” said West.
Rev. Sharpton said that with the seeming fall of the 24-hour news cycle to the minute-by-minute standard, it is all too easy for people to become distracted. Sharpton called for people to remain focused, to not lose sight of the goal and to have the determination to change the politics surrounding the issue.
The march took place hours before the opening ceremonies of the 19th International AIDS Conference, which was being held in he United States for the first time in 22 years, after the elimination of a US policy that barred people living with HIV from entering the country.
William Francis, executive director of City Wide Project in Atlanta, Ga., bought 80 clients from his agency.
After testing positive for HIV in 2009, Francis was shocked to discover the appalling state of the system for treating the disease.
He started delivering services from his car, and finally this year his program was awarded full funding by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
“Together we have the power to end AIDS,” said Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu via a pre-recorded message. “The question is will we use that power? We are at a crossroads; may we choose the right path.”