Nearly 4,000 people turned out for the annual D.C. AIDS Walk Saturday to raise money to fight the disease that affects an estimated one in twenty D.C. adults.
More than 140 students represented GW at the event, helping raise $4,000 for the Whitman Walker Clinic, which sponsors the walk. The fundraiser began in Freedom Plaza at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue at 9 a.m. Saturday and lasted about 90 minutes.
The event raised more than $500,000 that will go to providing healthcare for those infected by HIV in the D.C. area. About 360 teams participated in the event, including groups from American, Georgetown and Catholic universities.
Former NFL player Roy Simmons and gymnast Matthew Cusick addressed the crowd in Freedom Plaza. Cusick said he signed a contract with Cirque du Soleil before being dismissed because of a positive HIV test. Cusick discussed the difficult issues faced by those with HIV and AIDS.
“I hope you never have to go through what I’ve went through,” Cusick told the crowd.
“I once was HIV negative,” said Simmons, a former lineman for the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. “But in 1997, I was the first NFL player to be diagnosed with HIV. I’ve been through a lot in my life.”
In a speech before the walk began, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said she was dissatisfied with the Bush administration’s AIDS policies.
“This administration and this Congress is not doing its part to prevent this disease,” she said. “For 18 years we have been making progress by walking this walk. We will keep walking until we walk this disease right off the earth.”
HIV is especially problematic in D.C. area, which has the nation’s highest rate of infection at 10 times the national average.
One-quarter of all new HIV cases in the United States occur in people under age 21. The Kaiser Network, a health research group, attributed the youth infection rate to a false sense of security created by the success of antiretroviral drugs in treating the disease and by feelings of invincibility leading to risky behaviors.
Participants said District residents become more knowledgeable about AIDS with each walk.
“I hope to raise awareness of the growing problem in Washington, the U.S. and the world,” said Jason Garner, co-coordinator of the GW AIDS walk. “I also think a treatment and cure are really important, and each event gets us closer and closer.”
Others stressed the importance of pushing for further research on the disease to develop a cure.
“I think we need to increase funding for AIDS research,” said Stephanie Sears, a GW student. “It’s incredible to walk with so many people for such a great cause.”
Participation in Saturday’s walk was down from previous years, a fact event organizers attributed to the simultaneous scheduling of “Make a Difference Day,” an event that encourages residents to perform volunteer work in the city. Last year’s GW chapter of the walk raised a record $4,800, with more than 218 students participating in the march.