By Deric Batt
Full disclosure: I am something of a curmudgeon. I am annoyed by nearly everything and age has brought me a certain disdain for fun. (I’m only 30!). That seems like such a weird concept, but it is true. It is in this context that I must admit to my status as a disgruntled participant in the 2017 Indiana AIDS Walk. My immediate reaction upon arrival at the event was to be a bit underwhelmed.
That changed once I ran into the most infectiously warm person I have ever had the privilege of meeting – Mr. Tony Newland, HIV Prevention/Services Training and Development Manager with the Indiana State Department of Health. One hug later and I was taken by one simple thought.
Who hugs people nowadays?
As it turns out, nearly everyone. That was at least my perception at the AIDS Walk. All around me were people hugging people, sharing smiles and spirit.
People in drag hugging passing admirers.
People hugging co-workers and service providers.
People hugging curmudgeons.
It was such a bizarre concept to me, seeing so many people give their warmness so freely. The driving spirit behind such kindness might just have been a collective sense of equality and acceptance. Indeed it is a rare day glorious drag queens, men in short shorts and combat boots, and long-haired dufuses wearing jeans in 90 degree weather (that’s me) intermingle as a well coordinated collective. This group was joined by a multitude of organizations, ranging from your friendly neighborhood Walmart, the Indiana State Department of Health, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and the incredible Indy Pride, Inc group, among many others.
I know what you are thinking. “What brought all of these varied parties together?”. Perhaps you weren’t thinking that, but the idea you are furthers my exposition here. So bear with me.
To walk, is the answer to the question you may or may not have had.
Of course, it goes a little deeper than that. Many people were walking for many different reasons. Some, such as the gentleman I walked alongside for nearly the whole event, were walking for themselves and others like them, living with HIV and fighting to break the stigma that so often comes attached with a positive diagnosis. Others were walking for loved one’s, both living and passed, in the hopes of showing their support and respect for those who continue the fight for the dignity and respect of those living HIV positive.
Of course, all were walking to raise money for the Direct Emergency Financial Assistance (DEFA) fund – a statewide assistance fund for people living with HIV. DEFA funds are a flexible assistance often used to fill the gaps that other services might miss. DEFA can be used to help a single parent purchase work clothes so she can start her job, or a recently unemployed person afford their medication. DEFA can help a person afford transportation to their medical appointment, or keep their heat on during the cold winter months. DEFA is an incredible fund that allows HIV service providers the flexibility to provide aid during some of the more unexpected crises life tends to present. This is a vital tool for both HIV service providers and people living with HIV.
This is the amazing aspect of the Indiana AIDS Walk – hundreds of people, from all walks of life (including dogs!), marching together to help improve outcomes for people living with HIV. While the majesty of such a concept speaks for itself, being there is indeed something special and further illustrates just how incredible such an act is. It can turn the most grumpy among us into believers in the human spirit and the power of a united community. It can reinforce the idea that we can make a real difference in the lives of real people just by working together and pitching in. It embodies the expression “From small things big things one day come”. (Is that an expression or just a Springsteen song? Either way, still awesome.) It builds confidence in the concept that what we do matters.
For me, it did all these things. To be there with all these remarkable people made me a believer in our ability to create something special and serve each other as brothers and sisters of this world. I like to think every person who took part in the AIDS Walk came out a better person, giving their time (and money) to create better outcomes for those in need of a hand up.
I can say that for myself, at the very least, and that is something powerful. If you do not believe me, I’d like propose you come out for the 2018 Indiana AIDS Walk and see for yourself.
Deric Batt is a Supportive Care Specialist for Aspire Indiana Health HIV Services