Nearly 500 energized students, teachers, adults and families arrayed the usually peaceful New Haven Green on Sunday morning for the first annual AIDS Walk in New Haven, which united the community for a five-kilometer march in a fight against AIDS proliferation.
The effort was led by Yale University AIDS Watch, with help from nine organizations that make up the New Haven Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS, along with groups from other local colleges and universities. Participants in the walk raised an estimated $40,000, which will go to benefit families and individuals in the New Haven community afflicted with AIDS and HIV, help raise public awareness, and support advocacy for prevention and education.
The idea for the walk originated from AIDS Watch and a 20-student meeting earlier in the semester, but subsequently branched out through student support and active participation. Shilpa Madhavan ’07, the director of the walk, said the event was something the city truly needed because the community has not had an AIDS Walk in nearly 12 years.
“It’s a great way to raise money and awareness,” she said.
Student organizers said they were motivated to plan the walk because they believe New Haven has a relative lack of AIDS education programs.
In a letter to the event’s organizers, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. wrote that the city has “waged an aggressive war against AIDS,” noting a needle exchange program, community care vans, and education programs that include the distribution of condoms in schools.
“AIDS still affects thousands in our City and State, and apathy still threatens our success. New Haven’s strongest ally in this fight is the dedication of its people, who volunteer their time, services, and money to defeat the AIDS epidemic,” DeStefano wrote. “With your help, I know that this is a fight New Haven can win.”
One of the walkers, Chris McDaniel, an administrative assistant in Yale’s Religious Studies Department, said he raised $803 by asking friends and businesses to pledge. He said he was walking because he wanted to support the community and people who are HIV positive.
Another participant, Christopher Geissler, said he was excited to be walking with his two active dogs, who jumped and swerved around him as he attempted to register for the event with a Yale student volunteers. In total, he raised $400, but expressed concerns about the relative lack of AIDS education in New Haven.
“There does not seem that there is much discussion of it in New Haven,” Geissler said.
Similar sentiments about the lack of AIDS discourse in New Haven were echoed by Sarah Matheson FES ’05, who, upon recently returning from South Africa, realized “that it was a huge issue.”
AIDS Walk New Haven was designed to change that. The walk’s cause hits close to home in the Elm City, since, according to the group’s statistics, New Haven has the second largest number of new AIDS cases and people living with AIDS in Connecticut, a state that has the seventh highest per-capita incidence rates of HIV.
Demetria McMillian, participating with a team from AIDS Interfaith Network, said that “the walk has been long overdue.”
But former aldermanic candidate Dan Weeks ’06, though agreeing that it was time for New Haven to have an AIDS Walk, said that the lack of previous events does not signify students’ and community members’ apathy toward the subject. On the contrary, he said, “this is just one awesome expression” of the care and attention needed for AIDS awareness and prevention.