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STEPPED-UP GOAL: AIDS Walk Houston, shown in 2015, raised $400,000 for local HIV/AIDS organizations in 2017. This year, organizers hope to raise $450,000 and draw 10,000 people. (Dalton DeHart)

AIDS Walk Houston adds concert, hopes for sunshine.

By Marene Gustin

If you attended last year’s AIDS Walk Houston, you may have gotten a free umbrella for the Red Umbrella Stroll portion of the 2017 event. It was a spoof on the fact that it almost always rains on the day of the 29-year-old fundraiser.

“We didn’t buy umbrellas this year, so it can’t rain. It just can’t,” says Kelly Young, CEO of AIDS Foundation Houston, which sponsors the walk scheduled for March 4 this year.

Lack of red umbrellas aside, there’s something else different in 2018: the free Rock the Walk concert downtown, after the walk finishes at 2 p.m. The concert will feature Bun B, Paul Wall and Los Skarnales, along with DJ Gracie Chavez.

“We wanted this to be a positive celebration—besides being just a remembrance,” Young says. “So participants can stay and listen to some great music and enjoy the food trucks and sponsor booths.” It should be a fun way to relax after the 3K walk.

Last year, the walk raised $400,000 for 10 HIV/AIDS organizations. This year, AFH hopes to raise $450,000 and attract 10,000 walkers. The beneficiaries for 2018 are Avenue 360 Health and Wellness, Baylor Teen Health Clinic, Brentwood Community Foundation, Change Happens, Fundación Latinoamericana de Acción Social (F.L.A.S.), Harris County Hospital Foundation, Individuals Providing a Positive Presence (IPPP), Lazarus House, Resurrection MCC, and The Truth Project.

Each of those organizations will hand out VIP passes for the Rock the Walk concert to the first 1,500 people who undergo HIV tests. Check out aidshelp.org for information and testing locations, as well as updated information on the musical acts.

“It’s a blessing to be part of the AIDS Walk,” says Elia Chinó, executive director and founder of F.L.A.S.

Since 1994, F.L.A.S. has been a mainstay in the Latino community, providing testing, counseling, and education on HIV/AIDS, as well as health programs and social services.

“For the last several years we have been honored to help the AIDS Foundation raise money through the walk, and of course we appreciate the funds. It allows us to provide more service to the community,” Chino says. “I’ve been an advocate for 25 years. The disease affects Latinos, and particularly young people, more than other populations.”

In 2015, Hispanics and Latinos accounted for about one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses, even though they only account for 18 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And youth, ages 18 to 24, account for 22 percent of all new cases. One of the primary reasons is lack of education. In 2014, the CDC’s School Health Policies and Practices Study reported that only 41 percent of U.S. schools required students to learn about HIV/AIDS prevention. That was down from 64 percent in 2000.

Chinó’s organization is using a new tool to educate young Latinos: telenovelas. She says F.L.A.S. has its own YouTube channel for the Spanish-language soap operas that feature characters with HIV/AIDS.

“It’s a way to get the information on prevention and care out there to the younger generation,” she says.

Young agrees. “Education is so important right now. I think on a federal level, we know funding is going to be unstable, so it is important that we focus on what we can do locally. There is no fluff in HIV/AIDS funding, so it is important that we concentrate on what we know works. First, get people tested, then get those at risk on PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), and finally, get those with HIV/AIDS on medication and proper care. If the community comes together, we can eradicate the disease. It is possible.”

In 2016, the United Nations adopted a resolution entitled Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: On the Fast Track to Accelerating the Fight against HIV and to Ending the AIDS Epidemic by 2030. But delegates agreed it will require innovative funding solutions, as well as the cooperation of governments, citizens, and the private sector.

In the meantime, Young is focusing on the walk. “It’s my favorite event of the year. We are hoping for rain, so maybe it will be sunny this year.”

Maybe you should bring your own umbrella, just in case.

What: 29th annual AIDS Walk Houston
Where: Sam Houston Park, 1000 Bagby St.
When: Registration begins at noon on March 4, followed by the walk at 1 p.m. and the Rock the Walk concert at 2 p.m.
Info: aidshelp.org

This article appears in the February 2018 edition of OutSmart Magazine. 

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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