The testimony was powerful.
Before the 28th Annual AIDS-HIV Awareness Walk got underway Saturday morning at Cascades Park, speakers shared their stories.
“Good morning, my name is Samantha McCollman and it’s good to be here to share a little bit about myself. In 1993 I got really sick, I wasn’t sure what was happening to me so I went to the hospital. I got tested for HIV. When the hospital nurse told me I tested positive, she just gave me the results, then left me alone in the room,” she said. “There was no counseling, nothing.”
Speaking as an advocate for awareness, she continued:
“You have to remember that this was during the time there was a lot of fear surrounding the stigma of HIV and AIDS. People treated you differently because you had HIV. Later on, as I started to feel better, I wanted to help other likes me, help them live life more comfortably. Showing support by raising awareness is the best way to give voices to the people effected. The more I give to others the more refreshing I felt, and still feel. As you walk today, you walk with those of us who are in the struggle right now. Walk with a purpose.”
The one-mile walk around the park also featured a performance by LiveCityBoy, an artist from the Detroit Live music group. Colorful arrows were used as a guide for participants and walking teams. Walking teams were pre-established for the event; each team had a fundraising goal which was collected at the beginning of the walk by Big Bend Cares staff.
All funds raised by the walk will serve 1,000 community members affected by HIV or AIDS. The money raised by the fundraiser is used to support case management services, mental health counseling and access to medical care.
Around 200,000 HIV cases are reported each year. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. Over time the disease can destroy a number of the CD4 cells in the body, until it progresses to AIDS, which no cure currently exists for.
Marissa Whitman, a health specialist with the Health Department, said it is critical to get proper treatment as soon as possible.
“If every person in the world, who had a HIV infection was linked to care after being diagnosed, and on proper therapy, suppressing the infection would be instant. As long as a patient comes to a clinic, takes their HIV medicine regularly and blocks other possibilities they tend to live very long lives,” she said. “It’s a serious infection, but it is very easily treated or managed and we encourage everybody affected to seek health care”
The annual walk is sponsored by Big Bend Cares, a non-profit organization that provides education and comprehensive support to people infected with or affected by HIV or AIDS. Staff on site were there to provide a wide range of HIV prevention education, and offer awareness services. The organization promises access to health services to those who have HIV, making sure as many people remain healthy as possible.
The event included free HIV testing for all participants and anyone else at the park interested as well. In order to properly raise awareness and provide accurate information, Big Bend Cares partnered with Neighborhood Medical Center and Health Department for the event.