AIDS Walk New Haven, a 5K organized by Yalies that donates to 13 local HIV/AIDS-related organizations, is hosting its 14th annual run this Saturday. Beyond fundraising for HIV prevention and treatment, organizers of the walk hope to galvanize the public in the fight against AIDS and, as their slogan states, “stomp out the stigma.”

“In this country, many people living with HIV/AIDS do not seek treatment because they fear judgement of those in their community and even their doctors,” said Ryan Ritraj ’20, an organizer of the AIDS Walk. “We feel it is important to put on these events where HIV is something that is front and center, something that everyone is talking about. … We want this to be something that you are not ashamed of, but rather something you are living with and something that can be tackled.”

Beneficiaries of the AIDS Walk in New Haven include Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, the Yale Child Study Center and Leeway Inc. — a nursing center for people living with HIV/AIDS. Several of the organizations receiving donations from the event, along with AIDS Walk New Haven, are on the New Haven Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS, which meets monthly to discuss programming for HIV awareness and interventions.

The Yale Child Study Center, for example, has run the Positive Interventions for Families with HIV/AIDS program since 1989. Proceeds from this year’s walk will allow the center to continue its work providing home-based mental health services, including social work, medical case management and therapy to people living with HIV/AIDS.

According to Sandra Gossart-Walker, assistant clinical professor in the Child Study Center, donations from the AIDS Walk will empower the center to allocate resources more freely than it can with grant money, which is often designated for specific projects. Gossart-Walker said fundraising from the walk could finance food for families in need, transportation for clients or housing opportunities — needs that might take precedence over adherence to treatment regimens. According to the AIDS Walk New Haven website, lack of housing is the No. 1 barrier to accessing HIV treatment.

On Saturday, the Child Study Center will provide children’s activities and book giveaways for the walk. Yale student organizations Pitches and Tones, an a cappella group, and Voke, a LGBTQ spoken word group, will also perform at the event. Gerald Friedland, an epidemiology professor at the School of Public Health, and state Rep. Patricia Dillon SPH ’98 (D-New Haven) will give speeches.

John DeStefano, a political science lecturer and the former mayor of New Haven, said the advocacy on the HIV/AIDS epidemic reminds him of New Haven’s history of collective action for immigrants, an example of a unifying public issue where fear was transformed into a point of pride. New Haven was one of the first cities to provide resident ID cards for immigrants, and it was also a pioneer in implementing needle exchanges, DeStefano said.

“[HIV] ended up in New Haven being this thing that across the community, folks just said, like with immigration, ‘These are our family members, these are our coworkers, these are our neighbors, this is us,’” said DeStefano. “It crossed racial groups, it crossed economic lines, and it caused people to collaborate and look at their own prejudgments and ignorances. It brought the community together.”

In previous years, the walk has generated $10,000 to $15,000 in donations. Organizers of the walk said they are hoping to raise a comparable amount this year, which will help the 3,000 people in New Haven living with HIV/AIDS.

Connecticut has the eighth-highest per capita incidence rate of HIV/AIDS, according to the AIDS Walk New Haven website. To promote HIV awareness and prevention, Grace Cheung ’20, co-coordinator of the walk, said the AIDS Walk New Haven student group is hoping to expand its programming in the near future. For example, Cheung said the students are looking into training people to do HIV testing or facilitating volunteer opportunities in HIV clinics.

“The AIDS Walk is something to remind us of who we are, the road that’s been traveled by people for us and the work yet to do,” DeStefano said. “The community initiated a host of efforts to support this population, and I think it’s deeply rooted in traditional American values of the worth of every individual, our self-interest in one another and that as a civil society we are stronger when we work together.”

The AIDS Walk New Haven will start at 10:30 a.m. this Saturday on the New Haven Green.

Ruiyan Wang |