The 31st annual AIDS Run & Walk returns to Chicago on Sunday, Oct. 2, in order to raise awareness about the disease and funds for the organizations that help people impacted by HIV/AIDS across the city.
This year's theme, "Forward Together," is a continuation of the theme from the past two years of the event. When everyone was isolated in 2020 and participating in the run virtually, organizers chose the theme as "a way to create a sense of community and togetherness," said AIDS Foundation Chicago Senior Manager of Development and Communications Madeline Miley.
"It's really powered us through the past couple of years and I still feel so strongly about it," Miley said. "Forward Together really speaks to us coming together as a community, making sure that we don't leave any of our neighbors behind as we fight to end the HIV epidemic in Illinois and get to functional zero by 2030."
The opening ceremonies for the run start at 9:30 a.m. and you can register on-site for $50 if you haven't already signed up to participate. Those running the 5k or 10k will embark at 10:30 a.m. and the walkers and rollers will start their 5k at 10:50 a.m.
People can also sign up online to be a virtual supporter to "fundraise from afar" and still receive a T-shirt so "it's like you were actually there," Miley said.
Since 2001, nearly 25,000 participants have come together to raise $6 million to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. About 2,000 people registered for this year's run in advance, Miley said.
The proceeds from the event directly benefit AIDS Foundation Chicago and its partnering community organizations that provide services to Chicagoans living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
Since the HIV/AIDS epidemic started, doctors have gained a better understanding of the disease and developed more effective ways to treat and prevent it.
"Overall, the biggest thing now is making sure folks are getting connected to care," Miley said. "It's about making sure people are immediately connected to a competent healthcare provider so they don't get lost in the system, spending months waiting."
The disease continues to disproportionately impact communities of color, especially Black men who make up 13% of the U.S. population, but accounted for 42% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in the U.S. in 2019, according to the CDC.
To address the racial disparities in HIV/AIDS diagnosis and treatment, AIDS Foundation Chicago has increased its efforts to reduce the barriers people face when trying to access comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention and care.
"The disproportionate racial inequities you see in HIV/AIDS are even stronger when it comes to access to housing," Miley said. "So we've also increased out support for programs that address housing instability in the past couple of years, with the understanding that, if you don't know where you're going to sleep each night, it's very difficult to receive HIV/AIDS care."
Another way that AIDS Foundation Chicago tries to reduce the racial inequities in HIV/AIDS outcomes is by allowing community organizations to use the annual run to fundraise for their own programs and services.
There are 30 organizations that partnered with AIDS Foundation Chicago, including some that provide care to the communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, that will receive about 90% of the funds they raised through the event to use however they see fit.
"The most important thing to remember, is that we don't leave people behind when we're trying to end HIV/AIDS," Miley said. "In order to tackle this epidemic, we have to address the racial inequities that exist in the healthcare system, and everywhere."
To learn more about this year's AIDS Run & Walk, visit www.classy.org/event/aids-run-and-walk-chicago-2022/e401393.