Positively Engaged

Local Organizers To Host Second Annual AIDS Event

By Jerome Stuart Nichols

There are roughly 50,000 new cases of HIV each year in the U.S. Despite the non-discriminating infection and widespread effects, to the population at large, HIV is still an issue. With last year's HIV fundraising event World AIDS Day Detroit, organizer Phillip Kucab and others worked to help wake people up to the reality of HIV. With WADD 2012, they're trying to take it one step further.

The official WADD 2012 event will take place Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. The details of events and guests are still being finalized, though they will be hosting a fundraiser concert on Nov. 27, Mayor's Breakfast on Nov. 30 and a fashion show as a part of the main event.

"We still have young people becoming infected; we have an older generation living with HIV/AIDS," says Barbara Murray, executive director of AIDS Partnership Michigan, a WADD collaborator. "We have a responsibility to stand with each other. If we don't take care of each other, who will?"

It was this idea of personal responsibility and need for unity that sparked World AIDS Day Detroit 2011. After attending a lecture on the topic, Wayne State University medical student Phillip Kucab was interested in determining the events being held to mark Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.

To his pleasant surprise, there were many. Unfortunately, they were all independent of each other.

"I started thinking, 'Well, why are we doing all these separate things?'" he says. "Then I thought, 'What if we do an event where we all come together?' Some people loved that when I first said it and some people almost laughed it off because we don't do that in the HIV community in Detroit."

Some may have laughed, but Kucab was determined. Having lived with hemophilia all his life and being active within the hemophilia community, he is acutely aware of the devastation HIV can cause.

"I had a family member that died of HIV. I've had more friends than I can count on my hands die from HIV that had hemophilia. As a teenager, I was going to other people's funerals. That impacts me."

With some passion and hard work, he was able to get people to listen. Organizations like Affirmations, the Hemophilia Foundation of Michigan and AIDS Partnership Michigan all joined in to help make WADD a success.

In the end, they raised over $20,000 for charity. While the fundraising was a success within itself, some saw a victory that was much more important. For many, the success of WADD 2011 also marked an important moment in the fight against HIV.

"It marked the clarion call that there is a new generation of leaders in the fight against AIDS," Murray says.

"Phillip Kucab is a key member of that new generation of leaders. He reached out to me last year and I listened and I learned from him. He is smart, articulate and passionate. He is a game-changer, and he knows that it is time to end it."

For his efforts, he was awarded the Outstanding Community Impact Award from collegiate community service coalition Michigan Campus Compact.

Then WADD was born. The event that sprang from concerned curiosity had accomplished more than most people imagined in just a few short months. During the planning of WADD 2011, big names like Usher and Bono were in the mix to appear. While the celeb turn-out was less than they hoped, there were still many influential people in attendance.

Jeanne White-Ginder, mother of HIV/AIDS poster child Ryan White, was in attendance to share her son's story. During the '80s, Ryan's story of discrimination and, ultimately, martyrdom gripped America. Today, he's all but forgotten.

Being able to give new life to White's story was a symbolic victory for their fight and held great meaning to Kucab.

"Ryan White's mom told the Ryan White story on the eve of his 40th birthday. We recorded it professionally; that story will never be taken from us," he says.

Before the success of WADD 2011, Kucab was understandably hesitant to do it all over again. But he was struck by the out-pouring of support.

"Seeing that, it really fueled me to continue the work," he says. "I could have just stopped last year and said we commemorated the 30th year of AIDS in a huge way. Organizations came together and created a lot of energy. I could have stopped there but the HIV/AIDS organizations are struggling; it's getting harder and harder every year.

"The hope is that, with enough awareness, we'll be able to get to zero new infections, AIDS-related deaths and discrimination on the basis of HIV by the end of 2015. The goal is lofty but the team is hopeful."

With WADD 2012, Kucab and co. are still focused on spreading the word about HIV prevalence and stigma. Much of the plans for this year's event are up in the air, but it already looks to repeat the success of last year. "How to Survive a Plague," David France's critically acclaimed documentary on the AIDS crisis, will make its Detroit premiere during the event. Requests are also being sent to big names like Bill Clinton, Magic Johnson, Mary J. Blige and NeYo to appear at the event.

While getting a big-name celebrity to attend would remarkably spread their reach, they recognize that star power won't be enough.

"The work that we're doing in the HIV community is largely within our community," he says. "So, what I want World AIDS Day to do is to be something that reaches the average person in Detroit. I would love for anyone that lives in Detroit to turn on the TV on Dec. 1 and know that it's World AIDS Day, because that's the start."

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