New York’s GMHC Prepares for Annual AIDS Walk
On Sunday, May 18, about 30,000 New Yorkers will gather at Central Park for the 29th Annual NYC AIDS Walk. The event -- one of the nation's oldest AIDS Walks -- will seek to raise more than $5.5 million for GMHC and more than 40 other tri-state area AIDS service organizations. Founder Craig Miller never imagined that the event would last so long.
"Back in 1986 when we started this event, we were very hopeful and also very mistaken that perhaps we could defeat this epidemic in the course of a handful of years," Miller told EDGE. "Obviously, that proved to not be the case. But I will also add that were it not for efforts like AIDS Walk, there is no way we would have achieved the progress that we have."
Miller first brought his idea to combine grassroots activism to raise awareness and funds to AIDS Project Los Angeles, which raised $673,000 in their first walk in June 1985. The following spring, Miller helped the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City organize their first walk, which continues to be the world's biggest. And now is no time to retreat.
"For literally three decades now, many people have given their blood, sweat and tears to bring this epidemic to a close, and to stop the human suffering caused by HIV and AIDS," said Miller. "That goal is now within reach, and we have a choice: continue to demonstrate a commitment to those living with the disease, or retreat from this effort right when we're on the cusp of victory. Our point of view as organizers and those who have survived this epidemic is that we owe it to those who lost their lives and who lost family members to see this battle through to its successful conclusion."
Miller will address the crowd on Sunday, sharing the stage with celebrities including the cast of Broadway's "Mothers and Sons," including six-time Emmy winner Tyne Daly, Bobby Steggert, Grayson Taylor and Tony Award winning playwright Terrance McNally; Randy Fenoli, host of TLC's "Say 'Yes' to the Dress"; Dot-Marie Jones of "Glee"; Eric Olsen and Daniela Ruah of "NCIS: Los Angeles"; Lana Parilla of "Once Upon a Time"; Nick Wechsler of "Revenge"; and CBS 2 News Anchors Dana Tyler and Chris Wragge. Bobby Steggert will sing the annual stepping-off anthem, "You'll Never Walk Alone."
But of all of the stars and dignitaries on the stage on Sunday, the person Miller wants to hear speak is Ronald Regins. "He is a client of GMHC, an advocate, and a fierce and fabulous survivor. That's who I'm most looking forward to hearing from," said Miller. "There will be a whole large cast of celebrities and musical performers who I'm sure will be great. But to me, the real substance is when clients speak -- people who actually benefit from the services."
Miller was also very proud to announce exclusively to EDGE that Mayor Bill de Blasio will join him on stage, marking the first time a New York City mayor has helped kick off the AIDS Walk in many years.
Other political officials expected to attend include United States Representative Jerrold Nadler; New York State Senators Brad Hoylman, Liz Krueger, Gustavo Rivera and Jose Peralta; New York State Assemblymembers Herman D. Farrell, Ron Kim, Luis Sepulveda and David Weprin; New York City Council Members Daniel Dromm, Corey Johnson and Ben Kallos; Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice; New York City Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks; and Director of the AIDS Institute, Office of Planning and Policy, Johanne Morne.
AIDS Walk Funds Reach Clients
Kelsey Louie, recently appointed CEO of GMHC, will also address the crowd. Detractors criticized Louie, the former chief program officer of Harlem United, after he was forced to resign from an LGBT running club after being accused of trying to rig a board election there.
This scandal comes on the heels of the exit of GMHC CEO Marjorie Hill last year, in what was reported by DNA Info as a board-mandated ouster of the longtime leader amid accusations that Hill had lost the organization millions of dollars in grants via staff layoffs and an "acidic management style."
But Miller said that the incoming leader has his support, and told any detractors of GMHC’s mission or the AIDS Walk efforts that fund it to come down to GMHC and witness firsthand what those funds are used for.
"Spend some time in GMHC’s client dining room and see with their own eyes the hot meals served to people who are very much in need of good nutrition, and companion and support," said Miller. "I would ask them to spend some time with the crisis intervention counselors and ask them if they’ve been effective in enhancing the lives of the newly diagnosed. I would tell them to visit the satellite testing center in Chelsea where young people are tested and counseled, and given guidance on how to stay healthy through their most sexually active years. Or talk to legislators and ask about the influence GMHC exerts."
"I guess I would say that while GMHC is not a perfect organization, I’m not sure there is such a thing," said Miller. "But I know that GMHC continues to meet an urgent public health and humanitarian need in New York City with passion, compassion and effectiveness."
AIDS Walk Lights Up NY!
On May 15, as part of the Light Up New York! Program, the iconic Empire State Building will be lit in red to raise awareness and fight stigma around HIV, in tandem with the NYC AIDS Walk.
Isabella Rossellini will lead the lighting ceremony of the Empire State Building, one of many New York City buildings that have joined this effort, among them 7 World Trade Center, Bloomberg Tower, Time Warner Cable, the New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, One Astor Plaza, the Shops at Columbus Circle, CBS Corporation Headquarters and The Helmsley Building.
This is a new effort in GMHC’s partnership with local organizations to spread awareness about the NYC AIDS Walk. They are also continuing their fruitful partnership with first-ever presenting sponsor, Duane Reade drugstores. Customers can purchase a placard at the register, with a donation going to GMHC. For the first time, the sponsor’s contribution has exceeded $1.3 million. Miller hopes that all together, the event will raise the funds to help the programs at GMHC and more than 40 other ASOs run smoothly.
"Last year we raised more than $5.5 million. That was an extremely important and gratifying result, and the proceeds from the event were used to make a real difference in the lives of many people in the past year," said Miller. "I hope for Sunday to have that strong turnout and fundraising achievement once again."
For more information, call 212-807-9255 (WALK) or visit aidswalk.net/newyork.