The AIDS Legal Council of Chicago ( ALCC ) in partnership with the Windy City Times presented Outstanding Advocate of the Year awards to six people working in the HIV/AIDS community.
ALCC assists low-income people with HIV in Chicago with legal issues, including discrimination, Social Security benefits, wills and powers of attorney.
A reception preceded the awards ceremony at Sidley Ausin LLP at One S. Dearborn, attended by long-time activists and professionals providing HIV/AIDS related care and services.
"Tonight's the night we celebrate our friends," said Ann Hilton Fisher, executive director of the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago. "We're a small piece of the HIV community in Chicago and we all work together."
Fisher stressed that while the community has made great strides, people are still dying of AIDS complications and people are still being discriminated against for carrying the HIV virus. She indicated that because of that, the community still needs fierce advocates like the award winners.
Honorees included: Cheryl Potts, executive director of Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry, who has dedicated her career to advocating for people with HIV. She cited the meeting of a 4-year-old girl early in her career with changing her life. "She taught me the most important thing in life is to give a damn and open a door," said Potts.
Matthildur "Matta" Kelley, case manager at Community Outreach Intervention Projects ( COIP ) , started working on the streets with injection drug users. As a result, COIP saw a 70 percent reduction in new HIV infections among the people Kelley was serving.
State Rep. Greg Harris is Illinois's highest-ranking openly HIV-positive elected official. Harris's staff member Coleman Goode accepted the award on his behalf, saying, "As someone who is HIV positive, it is nice to see someone who is also HIV positive on the House floor advocating for me, because I can't always do it myself."
Test Positive Aware Network ( TPAN ) a national model for peer-led programs supporting, serving, educating and empowering people with HIVhas been serving the community since 1987.
Partners Ed Jeske and John Hern have been working with the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago for more than 10 years, raising thousands of dollars for the organization and donating their time for everything from stuffing envelopes to event planning. "The honorees are competent, compassionate people who are only trying to do what is best for others. We are so proud to be associated with them," said Jeske.
"Each advocate does terrific work and makes a tremendous impact in the health and lives of people with HIV," said Ricardo Cifuentes, director of development at the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago.
This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.