AIDS WALK SPEAKER “KEEPING HOPE ALIVE” THROUGH HONESTY “Create Safe, Open and Honest Spaces”
AIDS Walk RI, taking place Sunday, September 13, will feature artist, activist and recent Rhode Island College graduate Ronald Lewis as a featured speaker.
The annual event, sponsored for the first time by two AIDS service organizations, AIDS Project Rhode Island and AIDS Care Ocean State, includes an approximate two mile route that starts and ends at the Rhode Island State House lawn facing downtown Providence. The 2015 AIDS Walk RI theme is “Keeping Hope Alive.”
Registration starts at noon; available on-line at firstgiving.com/aidswalkri and through the two agencies’ websites. The speaking program commences about 12:30PM and the walk steps off shortly after. AIDS Walk RI raises critical funds for public awareness, advocacy, testing and comprehensive services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Event participants often form “walk teams” to raise money.
Lewis, who recently acted in an unorthodox version of Moliere’s Tartuffe at the Artists’ Exchange in Cranston, graduated this spring from Rhode Island College with a bachelor’s degree in theater. He lives in Providence, but grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where he participated in workshops about HIV/AIDS at an LGBTQ youth center.
“I found myself with a deep longing for affirmation and community in the gay community, where disparate lines are often drawn between race and class,” he said. Lewis, who is African-American, found “affirmation and community a luxury.” In response, he has emphasized creating “safe, open and honest spaces” by being public about being HIV positive. “Many of my HIV positive friends wouldn’t speak of it openly because of the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS,” he said. In 2012 he was diagnosed as positive, and about a year later decided it was time to be open.
“Once I was given a positive diagnosis, it was important to not allow the fear of stigma to control my life and the types of interactions I would have intimately and communally,” he said.
“Keeping hope alive means being open and visible to foster dialogue about HIV and AIDS,” he said. “HIV/AIDS affect real people like your brother, your sister, your partner, or even you, as I know firsthand. If we are to keep hope alive, it’s important to create safe, open and honest spaces in our lives.”
AIDS Walk RI is such a space, and he urges everyone to join him in raising money to fight HIV and AIDS and to foster dialogue, community and affirmation not only at the walk, but year-round.
>> More information about AIDS Project Rhode Island and AIDS Care Ocean State is available at www.aidsprojectri.org and www.aidscareos.org.