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World AIDS Day 2013: Bringing the community together to reflect, react, rejoice

This Sunday will be a time to honor those we love and those we lost in the AIDS epidemic. The Grand Rapids Red Project will be hosting a candlelight vigil, remembrance ceremony and a celebration of life after party.

/Red Project

World AIDS Day 2013

Sunday, December 1, A walking candlelight vigil will begin at Rosa Parks Circle at 6 p.m. leading to Fountain Street Church where a Memorial Celebration will be held. An after party celebration at Rumors Nightclub will start around 10 p.m. where free and confidential HIV testing will be offered by The Grand Rapids Red Project.

/Michael Feehan

It was 1987. I was in middle school and my favorite teacher’s son was infected with HIV. His illness progressed quickly and he passed just a year after being diagnosed. Twenty years later, in 2007, I met someone who would become a lifelong friend; he was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and continues to live with the virus today. With the medical advances and treatments developed over the last 20 years, HIV is often invisible to the public eye. Yet, HIV continues to be a threat that many of us do not take seriously.

It's disturbing that HIV infection among youth is on the rise and even more troubling, is that one in 16 black men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. While HIV does not discriminate, right here in Kent County, an African American woman is 28 times more likely to be living with HIV than a white woman. We all have a friend, a family member or a neighbor affected by HIV or AIDS, so it must be our collective responsibility to keep the next generation free from HIV and AIDS. 

"Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation" is the theme for World AIDS Day 2013, which will be observed on Sunday, December 1, as a time to honor those we love and those we have lost in the AIDS epidemic. Jeffrey Richard Cipcic has organized World AIDS Day Grand Rapids for multiple years and this year will be collaborating with the Grand Rapids Red Project to bring another event to Fountain Street Church. 

"World AIDS Day is about bringing people together to reflect for those that lost their battle, respond to those who are living with HIV, and to rejoice for the future." says Cipcic. "We want to open up discussions about HIV/AIDS....and have a beautiful evening in the process."

The Grand Rapids Red Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving health, reducing risk and preventing HIV. Since 1998, the Red Project has served the City of Grand Rapids by providing people with access to the knowledge, tools, information and support they need to stay healthy. Raising awareness in the community is one goal that the Red Project takes seriously, as over 1,100 persons in Kent County alone are HIV positive. In addition, 1 in 5 persons living with HIV are unaware of their status. 

“Our goal through HIV Test Counseling is to empower people to make informed decisions about the choices they make. We identify risks and ways to live healthier within the context of HIV status," says Kevin Gierman, program manager of the Red Project's HIV CTR (Counseling, Testing & Referral) program. "Infected or not, we are all affected.”

The Red Project is honored to be partnering with Jeffrey Cipcic in this annual tradition at Fountain Street. Development Chair, Jeff Shade, says this year’s events will honor those we have loved and lost to AIDS through a Remembrance Celebration. The event will begin with a candlelight vigil in Rosa Parks Circle at 6 p.m. followed by a reflective walk to Fountain Street Church.

At 7 p.m., the Remembrance Celebration will include performances by the cast from the Actors’ Theatre’s "Love! Valour! Compassion!" and "Andre’s Mother," harpist Juliana Nahas-Villo and pianist Theodore Ndawille accompanying soloist Hannaniah Whitley, as well as personal stories from those affected by HIV. This celebration is free of charge yet a free will offering will benefit local HIV prevention efforts of the Red Project. 

For a fun and festive end to the night’s activities, Rumors Night Club will be hosting an 18+ after party. The Grand Rapids Red Project will be offering free and confidential HIV testing at Rumors from 10 p.m.- midnight, but cover charge applies.

How can you share in the responsibility for an AIDS Free generation? 

  • Get tested.
  • Donate to an HIV/AIDS organization.
  • Educate yourself about high risk behaviors.
  • Empower yourself with risk reduction options.
  • Volunteer with the Red Project.
  • Get Friendly by reducing stigma one conversation at a time.

Disclosure: I serve on a volunteer board of directors for The Grand Rapids Red Project.

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