On Dec. 1, the world, including Juneau, took time to reflect on HIV and AIDS, a global epidemic that has touched most lives in some way or another. AIDS has been on the radar for 30 years now, while the Alaskan Aids Assistance Association celebrated 25 years of service to Alaskan communities in February of this year.
Thursday evening at the Baranof Hotel, around 50 Juneau residents gathered in support of those with AIDS and HIV and to reflect on how it has affected the global community and, down to a much smaller scale, how it may have affected individual lives.
Heather Bayless works for the Alaskan Aids Assistance Association in Juneau, providing support, education and tools for prevention throughout Southeast Alaska. The Juneau office is located in the Emporium Mall on South Franklin Street, above the downtown Heritage Café. With the tagline “It’s all about life,” it’s no wonder Bayless, always energetic, spends a great deal of time on awareness and prevention in the community. Events like World AIDS Day remind people that AIDS and HIV, while much more treatable than in the past, remain a real issue, even in the United States. Bayless also spends a great deal of time demystifying AIDS and HIV, bursting myths about transmission of the virus and helping increase understanding.
At the Thursday evening event, participants created signs showing their support of people with AIDS or HIV. As part of a global campaign, people were photographed holding signs that detailed how they support AIDS efforts.
Attendees then lit candles, which they held during the memorial reading of the names of Alaskans who have died from AIDS. Marsha Buck, a member of the Juneau Pride Chorus attends the event each year.
“It’s always humbling,” said Buck of the event, “the list of names grows longer every year and you know at least one or two people on the list, if you’ve lived in Alaska for a while.”
The candles are lit for all those who are affected by AIDS, but for those who know someone personally, it can be a very individually touching event. One name on the list belonged to a man Buck had taught with while living in Anchorage.
After the candlelit memorial, Bayless had encouraging news to share; each year she gets a chance to update attendees on the medical advances that will help people to better treat or prevent AIDS. This year, Bayless shared news about breakthroughs in research on AIDS transmission.
Continuing the uplifting tone, the Juneau Pride Chorus sang three songs with an overarching theme of support for those dealing with HIV and AIDS.
“Come walk with us, the journey is long,” sang the chorus.
“Hamba Nathi” or “Come Walk With Us” is an African folk song. The Chorus sang in both English and the original Zulu.
The Chorus also sang “Sing, My Sister, Sing” by Annie Lennox, as part of her SING campaign to bring attention to and tackle AIDS in Africa.
The final song was “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel, a song many knew and sang along with the Juneau Pride Chorus.
World Aids Day is every year on Dec. 1 and Buck hopes to see growing support for the event in the future.
For information, education, prevention or assistance, visit http://alaskanaids.org or call 907-263-2050 for the statewide helpline.