AIDS Walk 25: An Event Like No Other

On Sunday, July 17, nearly 25,000 people participated in the 25th annual AIDS Walk San Francisco (AWSF). Since its inception in 1987, the event has raised more than $77 million for the programs and services of San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other important AIDS organizations throughout the Bay Area. It has also motivated record numbers of people to take strong and compassionate action to confront HIV/AIDS in the Bay Area.

Just days before this year's walk, we sat down with AWSF Founder and longtime Producer, Craig Miller, for his thoughts on the 25th anniversary of Northern California’s largest AIDS fundraising event.

AIDS Walk San Francisco commemorates 25 years.  Tell us the inspiration for the very first walk.

Back in 1987, there was very little being done to address this new public health emergency. The Reagan administration was deadly silent on AIDS, and fear, ignorance, and prejudice surrounded the disease. As a young gay man coming of age at the time of an epidemic, I recognized I was a member of a community that was not only under attack from the “moral majority” and the like, but now under attack from some viral force. Like so many others, I was intent on fighting back.

The idea of the AIDS Walk emerged from the recognition that we all needed to band together as best we could and fill the gap left by the federal government’s negligible response to HIV. We needed to take care of one another. We needed to lift each other up. And we urgently needed to make the point that people with HIV would not be ignored, abandoned, or dismissed. All lives have value, and if the federal government wouldn’t say so, we would. Well, what better place to try to do this than San Francisco, and what better organization to do this for than San Francisco AIDS Foundation?

How has AIDS Walk evolved over the last 25 years?

The evolution of AIDS Walk San Francisco has been nothing short of remarkable—a real reflection of the compassion of the people who live here. At the first event in 1987, 6,000 participants, mostly members of the LGBT community, walked and raised $667,000. The event still enjoys tremendously strong support from LGBT people, but thankfully, support of the AIDS Walk has really broadened out, and now engages the entire Bay Area community. This, of course, was the whole idea. After all, we could not effectively confront an epidemic by placing the entire burden on just a fraction of the population. We needed everyone on board, and AIDS Walk has powerfully expanded public support.  Now, the AIDS Walk brings out people of all ages, races, and orientations, who come together each year to support a cause that remains close to the hearts of Bay Area residents. 

For people who’ve never done AIDS Walk, tell us about the atmosphere in Golden Gate Park the day of the walk.

Well, it is quite an engaging mix of emotions. The words that come to my mind are: exuberant, compassionate, festive, and purposeful. AIDS Walk San Francisco has for many years now brought out the highest within us—that is, a recognition that we truly are our brother’s keeper. Also, it’s massive, powerful, and moving. Oh, did I mention fun? Frankly, it’s a blast. You never know who you’re going to run into at AIDS Walk, what they’ll be wearing (or not), or to whom you might have the opportunity to apply sunscreen. Plus, there’s great entertainment and yummy snacks everywhere you turn.

The event starts off with a moving opening ceremony—then comes the 10k walk through the most gorgeous park on the face of the earth, a raucous finish line, and a great post-walk concert in the meadow. It just makes for such a great day.

Why is AIDS Walk still so important to our community?

While the stigmatization of people with AIDS has lessened, there's still a need to raise money, show compassion for those infected with the virus, and combat complacency.

As we enter the epidemic’s 30th year, we must persevere. We must help ensure that HIV prevention efforts are strong, and that proper medical care and support is available to all who need it. In short, we must remain dedicated, fight back, and never give up, until we end AIDS here—and everywhere. 

When was your first AIDSWalk? How many have you done? Share your memories of AIDSWalk in the comments below...


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