This past year I got to do a lot of really neat work alongside those fighting against AIDS and everything that comes with the disease, including but certainly not limited to; stigma, medical bills, loss of hope, etc.
Last November I visited an all-male support group within the walls of Arthur Kill State Penitentiary on Staten Island where we chatted. And I mean it. (Chelsea Lately would then extract my "fun fact" from my Miss America talent and made fun of me. Neat.) Looking back, I realize this night was a turning point in my life. Think about the scene like this: little white pageant winner marching into prison to talk about AIDS with a group of incredibly diverse imprisoned men. By the end of our conversation one of the men, Hector, who had been in prison for 25 years and presently suffering from AIDS, stood up and charged me with the responsibility of "being their voice". We broke down walls and somewhere in there they came to believe I had the capability, as well as the capacity, of sharing their stories and rectifying not only society's views of them as prisoners, but also as victims of AIDS. A month later I took a public AIDS test on World AIDS Day in conjunction with my belief that everyone needs to know their status.
Please stay with me. I promise I have even cooler things to talk to you about.
Before I was Miss New York I did some other things that have moved me to help this group we have marginalized within our communities. After my 2nd year of college I worked in South Africa teaching elementary, middle school, and high school students (as well as their families) about AIDS, and the lifelong affects. Upon reflection I realize that I gave these people the tools to literally save their lives. And let's get cheesy, their futures.
That kicked off my "kick AIDS in the face" frenzy. May 2008 I participated in AIDS Walk NY. Thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers participate in the walk, and I have to say, it's a truly remarkable experience. But, the coolest part for me was being able to walk, and raise money with an unbelievable group of young people. There were a little over 30 of us that made up Team Supersnack. The final result? $58,000 raised and one of the top 10 teams involved in the entire thing. I mean, literally Delta, MAC, and Kenneth Cole were some of the others in the ten. Rad, right?
Well, what's not rad is the fact that the AIDS epidemic is continuing to ravage the United States. The rate of infection in our nation's capital is on par with UGANDA. Not okay. Not okay. Not okay. (I'm still saying it in my head, but I'll spare you.)
SO, can you tell where I'm going with this?
I need your help. And so do lots of people around this country. I'm walking in AIDS Walk DC with Team Supersnack and I'd really like it if you helped out this cause. And if I could be a Star Walker again (I raised over $1,000 last time around which in turn earned me a paper crown ... case closed).
My donation page (Sorry, it won't link up! Best to Copy and Paste into your browser!) : http://www.aidswalkwashington.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=299353&lis=0&kntae299353=8FFC6CD9278243C6B45FF0364C9FDDC0&supId=262930957
Also, I've been asked to go to our state's capital, Albany, on World AIDS Day to be the keynote speaker. Let's prove that I'm worthy of this invite, because believe me, I'm psyched to get a handle on this disease.
PS: Finally posted in honor of the late Senator Ted Kennedy whose compassion for those suffering from AIDS was clear and led to the Ryan White CARE Act which, essentially, provided federal funding to help assist those living with AIDS.