Following a year where AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) held its annual AIDS Run & Walk fundraiser virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event returned to Soldier Field on Oct. 2 with the theme "Forward Together."
AFC offered participants the option to do the event in person at Soldier Field, remotely using RunGo (a smartphone app that tracks participation anywhere and anytime) or virtually via a $50 minimum direct donation. People were also able to follow the race live via AFC's Facebook page.
Proof of full vaccination against COVD-19 or a negative test result within 72 hours of the event was required for everyone in attendance at Soldier Field. AFC also offered a limited amount of free onsite Pfizer BioNtech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines courtesy of Walgreens.
AIDS Run & Walk has had more than 23,000 participants since its inception 30 years ago and raised more than $ 5.5 million to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
This year over 1,800 participants raised money for AFC and 26 CommunityDirect organizations in the Chicagoland area. The CommunityDirect partners will receive up to 92 percent of unrestricted funds their team raises so they can work toward Getting to Zero Illinois, the statewide initiative to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.
As of this publication date, more than $420,000 have been raised this year, with fundraising taking place this year through Nov.1.
This year's partners included Agape Missions NFP, AMITA Health Housing & Health Alliance, Above & Beyond, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Center on Halsted, Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, Chicago Dancers United, Chicago House & Social Service Agency, Chicago Recovery Alliance, Cook County HIV Integrated Programs, Erie Family Health Centers, Esperanza Health Centers, Howard Brown Health, Legal Council for Health Justice, Lurie Children's SID Michael Reese Research and Education Foundation/Michael Reese Care Program, Mother & Child Alliance, Making A Daily Effort (MADE)/Nefuse, The Night Ministry, Open Door Health Center of Illinois, Pride Action Tank, Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago Season of Concern, Transforming Re-Entry Services (MWIPM), University of Chicago/CCHE and Sinai Health System.
"While the pandemic has unmasked many of the inequities that have historically disproportionately impacted communities, it also showed us that we work better when we work together," said AFC's Director of Fundraising Initiatives Dustin Erikstrup in a press release statement ahead of the event.
Lakeside Pride Marching Band kicked off the event with its renditions of "Demi Lovato's "Confident," ABBA's "Dancing Queen," LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" and the national anthem. The band also performed for the runners/walkers as they made their way onto the racecourse.
WGN entertainment reporter and radio host Dean Richards again was the emcee. Among other things, he also encouraged everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
AFC CEO and President John Peller spoke about "coming off these challenging 18 months" and the many people who have died due to HIV/AIDS over the past 40 years. He added that people living with HIV today are mostly un-detectable and un-transmittable (U=U) and that PrEP is helping with that effort as well as the Getting to Zero Illinois campaign.
Peller also told Windy City Times that "it is amazing to have everybody able to come together this year. Our theme this year'Forward Together' really captures what we need to do both coming out of COVID and to address the HIV epidemic today. We know that the number of people who have been getting tested for HIV has been down over the past 18 months because of COVID. One of today's critical messages is that it is time to get back into some of those healthcare routines. Get tested, go on PrEP if you have been thinking about it and to make sure that if you are living with HIV you are on treatment."
AFC Board Chair Craig Johnson directed attendees to check out The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt squares displayed next to the stage. He added that there are now over 48,000 quilt panels telling the stories of the lives that have been lost.
Artist/philanthropist/AFC Communications and Community Mobilization Senior Manager D'Ontace Keyes rallied the crowd and talked about the many people who have contributed to the effort to eradicate HIV over the years.
Illinois state Sen. Robert Peters spoke about sponsoring the bill that decriminalized HIV in Illinois that was recently signed into law while Illinois state Sen. Mike Simmons reminded people he is the first out gay state Senator in Illinois. Simmons added that it was "so good to be in community today" and he also got bill passed that "requires state agencies and hospitals to collect data for LGBTQ populations so we can measure the impact of the pandemic and coronavirus on our community."
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Illinois) also spoke
Ahead of the run/walk, Dr. Toyin Nwafor and Chioma Nwafor aka Tfal and Chi led warm-up stretches for participants.
Peller, Quigley and Richards were on hand at the start line to cheer the participants.
The event also featured music by DJ Harry Tyner Jr.; various booths; free flu shots courtesy of Walgreens; McDonald's breakfasts; a MillerCoors beer garden; and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile (with the company offering free hot dogs).
See aidsrunwalk.org for more information or to make a donation and visit gtzillinois.hiv/ for details about the Getting to Zero Illinois Plan.