Participants in 26th AIDS Walk Philly march to combat ignorance

Art Institute of Philadelphia students and friends join forces Sunday on Kelly Drive for AIDS Walk Philly. One in five people with HIV don't realize it, says the CDC, with Philadelphia's infection rate five times the national average.
Art Institute of Philadelphia students and friends join forces Sunday on Kelly Drive for AIDS Walk Philly. One in five people with HIV don't realize it, says the CDC, with Philadelphia's infection rate five times the national average. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 23, 2012

Lynette Jordan felt many things when she learned in November 2008 that she was HIV positive, and among her primary reactions was a feeling of ignorance.

"Before I was diagnosed, I did not know anything about HIV and AIDS," Jordan said.

So on Sunday, she took steps - literally - to help reduce ignorance in others.

Jordan joined thousands who participated in the 26th annual AIDS Walk Philly, marching to raise money and to maintain a sense of urgency about a disease they fear has drifted from the forefront of public consciousness. Between 12,000 and 15,000 people participated in some phase of the event, according to AIDS Fund, the event's organizer.

Sorority sisters in matching windbreakers, parents with strollers, church groups, college students - most of them walked 12 kilometers, starting near the base of the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Others participated in a 5K run; still others clustered at the base of the steps to look at exhibits. Not all had registered, making an exact head count difficult.

AIDS Fund officials said the event raised $375,000, matching last year's total, to support a variety of local organizations that provide education, counseling, meals, hospice care, and other services.

Jordan, of West Philadelphia, who said it was her fourth year participating in the event, led a team of 35 walkers up Kelly Drive. She said she had a long way to go in fighting ignorance, citing the reactions of friends when she tells them about her condition. Some are surprised because she seems so healthy, thanks to a daily combination therapy pill called Complera.

"They're like, 'What? Whoa! I've known you for years!' " she said.

Others need a reminder about the kinds of behavior that can lead to HIV transmission, such as unprotected sex, said Jordan, who works at a nonprofit that helps low-income people pay utility bills. She has a younger brother in that category.

"He's a young guy, he goes to clubs. He might see a pretty girl and say she looks fine," Jordan said, adding that looks can be deceptive. "I look fine!"

Jordan said she contracted the virus from a partner in what she thought had been a monogamous relationship.

Not only do many people lack general knowledge about the disease, but some also lack personal knowledge. One in five of those infected with HIV do not realize it, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Philadelphia has its fair share, with an infection rate five times the national average.

A sobering timeline was set up near the Art Museum steps, with placards that identified prominent moments in the epidemic - from the first cases reported in 1981, to the Academy Award in 1993 for Tom Hanks' portrayal of an AIDS patient in the movie Philadelphia, to the recent spread of the disease in the African American community.

Nearby was a series of AIDS quilts with tender memories about lives cut short. One depicted cowboy boots and a fishing rod, another displayed a favorite recipe for a dessert called Flan de José, written in Spanish ( 6 huevos, 3 tazas de leche . . .). Still another commemorated the life of tennis great Arthur Ashe, who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion.

Before the walkers set forth, people took turns somberly reading over a public-address system the names of local AIDS victims. One of the speakers was Marlene Haines, a retired minister who was director of the St. Luke's Hospitality Center on 13th Street, which provides spiritual and social support for people with HIV and AIDS.

"By remembering the people we've lost," Haines said, "we're more encouraged to fight for the people who have not been infected yet."

Among the walkers was a team of 14 from sorority Zeta Phi Beta, including undergraduates from Temple University and graduates from other schools who now live in the area. The goal is to remind the public about the disease's wide reach.

"This affects everybody," said team captain Tanaya Teamer, who lost an aunt to AIDS in the early 1990s. "Everybody knows someone or has been affected in some way."

Johnny Rivera, 20, came with a dozen fellow students from the Art Institute of Philadelphia and said he was walking in honor of a friend who died seven years ago of AIDS.

"He's not with me right now," said Rivera, a film student, "but spiritually, I'm helping him out."


To view a photo gallery from Sunday's AIDS Walk Philly, go to philly.com/AIDSWalk


Contact Tom Avril at 215-854-2430 or tavril@phillynews.com .

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