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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



AFC and Art Institute Mark World AIDS Day
by Amy Wooten

This article shared 3191 times since Wed Dec 6, 2006
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The AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) and the Art Institute of Chicago commemorated 25 years of HIV/AIDS on World AIDS Day, Friday, Dec. 1, through a panel discussion that ended a week-long series of World AIDS Day presentations and discussions by AIDS activists.

The panel consisted of local activist Keith Green; Chicago Recovery Alliance's medical director Dr. Sarz Maxwell; activist and minister Joann Montes; and photographer and Picturing Hope creator Craig Bender. Picturing Hope is a program that provides children affected by HIV/AIDS with the means to express themselves through words and images.

AFC's Jim Pickett, the moderator, opened up the afternoon discussion at the Art Institute of Chicago by discussing what 25 years of HIV/AIDS have meant. It started, he said, as a disease that left people dead almost immediately after being diagnosed, to one after 1995 that offered a glimmer of hope through new drugs. Pickett also discussed the level of complacency in the United States. 'There's this idea that we've conquered it domestically,' and AIDS is a problem now for the rest of the world. 'As a country with tons of resources, we choose not to focus on HIV,' he added.

The final panel discussion to commemorate World AIDS Day and 25 years of the disease was left wide open for audience discussion after the panelists discussed highlights from when they spoke to audiences earlier in the week.

Green, who spoke about the years 1979-'89, said that the United States needs to set the stage for dealing with the pandemic globally. What struck him during his presentation was when a young man from the audience spoke about how, in his community, the infection of many of his friends has sparked and renewed a sense of passion.

Maxwell, who led a discussion earlier in the week titled '1990-'99: Death and Discovery,' talked about how new drugs in the mid-1990s changed the mindset about the disease from sheer terror to 'now what?' A concern to her is the current perspective that AIDS is no longer a big deal.

This era of complacency was the subject of Montes' discussion. 'It became easier to take meds and led to the attitude that this is not a big problem anymore to us as a nation and those affected by HIV themselves.' She reminded the audience that the United States is still seeing over 400,000 new infections.

Photographer Craig Bender spoke earlier in the week about the future of HIV/AIDS. 'We all have to step up and take action and play a role,' Bender said, adding that he just took what he knows, photography, to affect change on the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS and create further awareness. 'We all have to step up, re-task ourselves and motivate our communities,' he added.

Although throughout Friday's open-ended Q&A with the audience a wide variety of topics and issues was addressed, many seemed to be interested in how to motivate youth and how to address the current era of complacency.

'We have a whole generation that doesn't know what tear gas smells like,' Maxwell joked.

When one audience member asked if the nation's youth were angry enough to become involved, Green responded, 'Sometimes if you've lived all your life with it, you get accustomed to it.'

Montes agreed, and said in her experience, she's encountered young individuals who have a very fatalistic and apathetic attitude towards the disease. One 21-year-old female client told her she has no time to educate others about HIV/AIDS, and doesn't want to be a part of it.

One young gay man in the audience told the crowd that literally seeing death is what it took to wake him up and inspire him.

'It took for me to see myself at death, my experience being told I had six months to live,' Green said. 'That's what pushed me outside my complacency. Sometimes it takes severe trauma.'

In the audience were youth members of the program Picturing Hope, who answered questions about what motivated them to get involved.

Bender spoke of Alex, an 18-year-old boy from Romania involved in Picturing Hope, who was infected with HIV at age two through a blood transfusion. 'His spirit now feels stronger, and he wants to go out in the community to prevent what has happened.'

'Until they accept us fully, there's a lot to be done,' Alex simply said when asked what sparked his interest in becoming involved.

This article shared 3191 times since Wed Dec 6, 2006
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