Sunday, October 12th, 2014, marked the 30th Anniversary of the AIDS WALK in Los Angeles County (home to the world’s first AIDS walk). Tens of thousands arrived to show their support and to register their donations which will be used for food, housing, medical and dental care, counseling, plus preventative steps through the AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) and, in addition, will help to fund 20 – 27 other LA County AIDS service organizations. Previous walks have raised over $77 million for AIDS prevention and care in Los Angeles County. Since its start, almost a half-billion has been raised world-wide. The event was held in West Hollywood Park, 647 N. San Vicente Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA.
The event began far from the actual site of the walk. Volunteers stood ready and helpful at parking structures that donated free parking to the participants. Cedars-Sinai Hospital and the Beverly Center were among those where parking was offered for free. The volunteers pointed walkers to the free shuttle buses where they were safely and courteously transported to the AIDS Walk LA sign-in area. Here, countless teams of volunteers registered walkers and were on-hand to accept any last minute donations. An occasional horn and cheering would fill the air as the volunteers acknowledged those whose contributions put them into the Starwalker category ($1000). Starwalkers were then adorned with tiaras to show they had been crowned with the jewels of generosity and gratefulness. Outside on the stage, fitness experts, Groov3, were leading an energetic crowd with stretches and dance moves to limber them up for the walk.
Celebrities and elected officials then took to the stage to confirm their commitment to a cure, and to their commitment to those affected by this disease. Paula Abdul (critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and choreographer) was this year’s emcee for the event. The petite singer showed her sense of humor when she introduced herself as “Tattoo, from Fantasy Island”. After warming up the crowd with her wit and charm, she spoke of the disease and the lives it has taken. It was apparent by her donning sunglasses to hide her emotion; this is a personal campaign for her and one she believes in, deeply.
Paula soon introduced the Mayor of West Hollywood, John D’Amico who spoke to the pride he feels for the City of West Hollywood and for his city’s ability to stand together in the face of adversity and for the generous support for the many organizations that contributed to this year’s campaign. He voiced his support for the efforts of the APLA and other organizations that continue to make the AIDS crisis a public topic. He then introduced Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, and the crowd went wild when the two turned their backs to take a “selfie” with the walkers.
Craig R. Miller, founder of AIDS Walk Los Angeles (1985), gave a list of issues her felt were important to the continued success of AIDS research and the future of AIDS caregiving. He gave his appreciation to the many lesbian-sisters who were instrumental from the very start in organizing and fund-raising. He also acknowledged the power of the female spirit and gave this thanks and love to his own mother, who was present on the stage.
To break-up the intense emotional overture of discussing a disease which has taken so many lives from so many people in attendance, musical and dance performances were interspersed. Of those, Alex Newell (actor, Glee) and Christopher Borger (who lost his grandmother to this disease) sang beautiful, heart-felt songs of promise and hope. Dancers took to the stage as the stars stared in amazement. Lisa Vanderpump (The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills), Jai Rodriquez (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), Jason Ritter (actor, Parenthood, his brother Tyler Ritter (actor, The McCarthy’s) and his sister Carly Ritter (singer) were on their feet as acrobatic moves and hip-hop grooves flashed in front of them like glitter on a drag-queens Tutu. The energy was high and electrifying as the always funny Carson Kressley (actor, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and contestant, Dancing with the Stars), along with the adorable Karina Smirnoff (contestant, Dancing with the Stars) were making mental note of all the wonderful dancers who know first-hand how incredibly difficult moves like those are on a packed stage.
The beautiful and down-to-earth Lea Thompson (actor, contestant, Dancing with the Stars) was looking wonderfully healthy and fit with leggings and dance shoes, showed her support for the AIDS Walk alongside Nick Wechsler (actor, Revenge) and Michael Harney (actor, Orange is the New Black). To close out the event speakers, Pauley Perrette (actor, NCIS) spoke to the walkers concerning the comradery and commitment she has witnessed at these events and encouraged those suffering from illness or loss to seek support from agencies such as the APLA. She then introduced her friend Dick Donato (contestant, Big Brother) who found through a mandated medical screening for contestants on the show, Big Brother, he had contracted the AIDS virus. Dick was obviously moved by the support he felt from his peers and the crowd for his public announcement. He thanked everyone for their support, and for those in the crowd who may have not ever known anyone with this devastating disease, he put a face to the purpose for the fight.
The air was filled with cheers and energized with renewed hope as the walkers made their way to the starting line. The many volunteers stayed behind to welcome the walkers when they reached the finish line. One volunteer, Parxedes, spoke of his uncle’s passing from the disease in the 90’s. Praxedes was then 13 years old. When his uncle passed away, he and his mother began to walk to show support for a cure and for the lives lost. Paraxedes has been walking and volunteering with his mother for 20 years. He said he will continue to walk and volunteer until a cure is found.
As the walkers made their way through the heart of West Hollywood and the City of Los Angeles, they never stopped, never deterred. They moved onward in a passionate wave of hope and purpose. They walked for lives lost and lives saved. And as they made their way to the finish line, they crossed back into the reality of their own lives and own purpose, but with a spirit of oneness and solidarity. The volunteers congratulated them and thanked them with rousing pats on the back and snacks generously donated by Walgreens. They made their way to the shade where they sat and thought about the day and why they were there. Many made their way to the many bars and restaurants in West Hollywood to celebrate with their teams. Many head home to contemplate the magnitude of what they just witnessed. In the end, they walked to make a difference. They walked to hopefully never have the need to march again.
At the end of the event officials announced in a press release that $2,263,180 million was raised and counting. “The awe-inspiring community of AIDS Walk Los Angeles participants has once again proven its ceaseless dedication to helping people living with HIV and AIDS, as shown by today’s strong result of $2,263,180,” said Craig R. Miller, Founder and Senior Organizer of the event. “We never would have gotten anywhere in the fight against AIDS if we weren’t prepared to be fierce when we had to be. As we mark the Walk’s 30-year milestone today, it is clear that our walkers still have the commitment, compassion, and power to see this epidemic to its end.”
About AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA): AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), one of the largest nonprofit AIDS service organizations in the United States, provides bilingual support to more than 6,000 people annually. APLA also provides prevention education and leadership on HIV/AIDS-related policy and legislation. With more than 30 years of service, APLA is a community-based, volunteer-supported organization with local, national, and global reach. For more information, visit apla.org.
About AIDS Walk Los Angeles: Since 1985, AIDS Walk Los Angeles has raised more than $79 million for HIV programs and services throughout Los Angeles County, and has grown into one of the largest AIDS fundraising events in the country. In 2013 alone, 25,000 participants, many of whom were members of 1,600 corporate and community teams, raised over $2.5 million for AIDS Project Los Angeles and 27 other L.A. County AIDS service organizations. For more information, visit aidswalk.net.
About MZA Events: AIDS Walk Los Angeles was founded in 1985 by Craig R. Miller and his organization of activists, MZA Events. Miller is the AIDS Walk founder and senior organizer and has produced hundreds of public service campaigns and fundraising events, generating more than $385 million for major AIDS organizations throughout the country. For more information, please visit mzaevents.com.
Photos credit to: Christine Rogers/Chicksquad for DiversityNewsMagazine.com and Clinton H. Wallace/PhotoMundo International for DiversityNewsMagazine.com.
Editor’s Note: Diversity News Magazine published by Diversity News Publications, is an Official Proud Media Partner for the Fourth year in a row for the 30th Annual AIDS Walk LA 2014. For more photos from the day can be found at at www.snapped4u.com, search photographer Christine Rogers.