On this 32nd annual World AIDS Day, AID Atlanta is focused on Looking Back and Working Forward. We are spotlighting 32 days and 32 people that have been involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS in our community. Read their stories here and some of their tireless efforts to educate, test, get people into care, and fight stigma. Follow us on Facebook to see all of our community contributors.

We thank them for sharing their stories with us and with you as we approach World AIDS Day, December 1, 2020.

Philip Rafshoon, Midtown Alliance

It is a day to remind people that AIDS still affects millions of people in the U.S. and around the world and to unite with others in the continued fight against it. I have been out in the community for a long time and have lost many friends to HIV and AIDS.

I think it is important now to reflect on how the AIDS health crisis in the LGBT community, as a marginalized community, was ignored by the government. Today, as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic and therapeutics and a potential vaccine are developed, we must ensure that marginalized communities are given as much access to treatments and cures as anybody else.

I am committed to ensuring people know that AIDS is still a problem and supporting AIDS service agencies who help people get safer sex education and testing information.

LaTonya Morrisette, AID Atlanta

In the business of our day-to-day HIV work, we don't necessarily think of the many lives lost to HIV.  We're supporting those who are living with HIV today and working to drive positive health outcomes for them.  World AIDS Day is a designated time to stop and deliberately memorialize those that we've lost to HIV. 

For me, it's a time to reflect on those who have had so much impact on my life, and how their lost lives have shaped my understanding of HIV and the unique challenges associate with it. I'm committed to continuing to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS so that people realize that we still have so much work to do to educate our communities and rid these communities of stigma.

Crystal King, Grady Health System

World AIDS Day means taking time to look back at how have we've come and plan for where we need to go.  As I look back, I remember when a diagnosis was a death sentence. I think about how we saw no hope for a full life after a diagnosis. I think about how the pandemic ravaged our communities and no one talked about it.

I'm committed to an AIDS free Georgia. I am committed to lead conversations about prevention in the Black community, especially Black women.

Shane Totten, Action Cycling Atlanta/AIDS Vaccine 200

Every December the Action Cycling Atlanta/AIDS Vaccine 200 community gathers on World AIDS Day for a group bike ride. We ride for fellowship and to recommit ourselves to ending HIV/AIDS and the suffering it brings.

While there is much laughter, food, and jokes about winter fitness, there is a common commitment to doing all we can to help our beneficiaries — the Emory Vaccine Center and several local AIDS support organizations. We’re doing our part to make World AIDS Day merely a day of reflection on history.

Sam Park, Georgia State Representative, House District 101

World AIDS Day is an opportunity to commemorate the millions of lives lost and to recommit ourselves to ending the HIV/ AIDS pandemic.

As a Georgia State legislator, I am committed to doing all I can to expand access to healthcare in Georgia and decriminalize HIV to remove stigma and reduce fear so that every Georgian is afforded an opportunity to obtain preventative care and receive treatment so they may live a full life worth living.

Paul Conroy, Out Front Theatre

World AIDS Day is an important way for the entire international community to come together and both remember those we have lost and reaffirm our unified commitment to fight a still raging global health crisis.

Our community can not, and should never, forget the battles fought since the early 1980s and how AIDS shredded the fabric of our souls and robbed us of far too many friends and family members. Personally I take the day to think about the stories I have heard over the years and about the people that were lost, but

I also think about the future and the enormous strides that have been made in research and treatment. The strongest tool that I have at my disposal is an arena to help to tell those stories. Long before AIDS was spoken about in the mainstream, the stories of loss were told through the arts. That is a vital tradition that we have to keep alive, and in a place like Georgia it is doubly important to create conversations with people however possible.

The arts, whether theatre, photography, music, dance or any other discipline, allows us all to connect with our fellow human beings on a deeper level. That level of understanding and empathy is what will erase the stigma around AIDS and keep the stories alive for generations to come.

Park Cannon


World AIDS Day is a reminder of the need to speak against stigma while advocating for PrEP and access to care in all communities.

I am committed to passing an HIV decriminalization bill in the legislature as we strive for an AIDS free generation.

Nicole Roebuck, Executive Director, AID Atlanta

World AIDS Day is a time when I reflect on those that we have lost to the fight against HIV/AIDS. In every one of those people lost to the disease there is a lesson and a charge to all of us that we must and can do better in reaching those most at risk, to help them to live their lives to their fullest potential.

Though HIV/AIDS has become a very manageable disease, it still adversely impacts those with the greatest disparities in health care access and outcomes. And we have to remain diligent in ensuring that agencies like AID Atlanta stay intact to serve those who have little to no means.

We must be here to ensure that they have a true fighting chance against this disease. The formula is pretty simple. Teach and encourage prevention habits (utilize all our tools in the toolbox to reach those most at risk). Test, test and test some more so that we can identify early. Provide rapid linkage to care and medication options for those HIV+. Help patients to remove barriers that prevent them from accessing and remaining in care, get to the true root of the problem of HIV (poverty, racism, stigma, sexism, homophobia, housing instability, low self-esteem, trauma, mental health, etc.). Encourage Viral suppression as the ultimate goal, celebrate it often with patients, it’s a big deal!

I will remain committed to an AIDS free Georgia because it’s just the right thing to do in my professional life and personal life, change starts with me.

Nick St. Lewis, Delta Air Lines

World AIDS Day is a time when I remember the friends and loved ones lost to this terrible disease. It is also a reminder of our call to action, to support global efforts to prevent new HIV infections, increase HIV awareness and knowledge, and support those living with HIV.

HIV impacts all of us, no matter who we are or where we live. HIV medicines are available to help people with HIV live long, healthy lives and prevent HIV transmission. However more needs to be accomplished in the domestic and global fight against HIV. We need to continue following the science, making smarter investments, and supporting a sustained, collective response.

Working with our elected officials, corporations and others who are focused on this pandemic, to expand the quality of treatment for all people living with HIV: Filling the treatment gap. Attention must be given to addressing the greatest inequities in access to treatment in order to reach those left behind.

Malik Brown, Director of LGBTQ Affairs, City of Atlanta

I am committed to ending of AIDS in Georgia by working alongside like-minded leaders to expand access to testing opportunities, PrEP and preventative education resources.

Jon Santos

World AIDS Day is the one day in the year when all of us—every race, nationality, gender, age, ability, and orientation-- pause to think about AIDS. He remembers those we have lost, recommit to fighting for those living with HIV/AIDS, and work to prevent new HIV infections so that we can collectively write this pandemic into the history books.

Jim Farmer, Out On Film

To me, World AIDS Day is a day to look back at all those we have lost over the last four decades and remember them. I look back at the pandemic with a lot of sadness, thinking of a generation that we lost.

I am committed to working toward an AIDS free Georgia by educating younger people that HIV/AIDS stills exists and that there are precautions we can take to stop the transmission. I also want to work toward a society where it is okay to talk about sexuality and not be ashamed to do so.

Jerry Henderson, Joining Hearts

World AIDS Day is a reminder that while there have been great advancement to save lives throughout the world; there is still work to be done till there is a cure or zero transmissions. It also serves as a reminder that we must work together to remove the stigma. Stigma is one of the key indicators where transmission rates are still occurring.

In addition to removing the stigma, we must be committed to educating about prevention and care of this disease that is no longer a death sentence as before. I look back on the pandemic as one that has seen growth and prosperity but still WE have work to do.

As President of Joining Hearts, whose mission is to raise awareness and funds to support prevention, care, and housing assistance to those impacted by HIV/AIDS in Atlanta, I will strive to continue to educate, support the efforts of our beneficiaries, and partners to eradicate this disease.

Gretchen Wilde, Emory University Rollins School of Public Health

As a millennial, I did not witness the devastation of the AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s, though I see the continuing devastation of HIV/AIDs across the deep South.

Every year, I reflect on World AIDS Day, inspired by those who have dedicated their lives towards AIDS advocacy and am motivated to work tirelessly to reduce HIV/AIDs disparities across race and socioeconomic status.

Dawn Averill, AIDS Healthcare Foundation

To me, World AIDS Day is a time to remember those that we have lost in their fight against HIV/ AIDS, celebrate those who are currently fighting and bring awareness to the fact that HIV is still very much a significant public health issue. As I look back on this pandemic, it brings me both sadness and hope. I’ve been a nurse dedicated to HIV care, prevention and awareness for over 20 years. In that time I have lost so many patients and clients, many of whom became friends.

I look at the incredible improvements we have made in treatment and selfishly wish some of them should have held on for a little longer. Even today I still think “could this have been the medication to save him/ her?” The deep south overall is disproportionately affected by HIV/ AIDS, particularly new cases and undiagnosed cases. Despite the extraordinary efforts of many agencies in the state, Georgia is ranked as one of the highest in the country. Education, access and linkage to care and retention into care must be the focus. Additionally, stigma is still strong in Georgia and often serves as a major barrier to care.

I’d like to see different approaches to care and retention such as mobile clinics for the rural areas, telemedicine options for those who are dealing with stigma, more options for non-traditional hours to access care that include telehealth options, and a robust mental health support network.

Alex Wan

World AIDS Day is important to me because it ensures that we continue shining a bright light on the fight against HIV by remembering those we have lost to the virus, lifting up and supporting those who are living with HIV, and renewing our determination to prevent the further spread of infection.

My community service and social activism is rooted in my involvement in the fight against HIV/AIDS. As I reflect on the pandemic, I celebrate all those who have come together in so many ways to contribute their time, talents, and treasure to supporting this important cause. While I recognize there is still so much work to do, I do find hope in the compassion that has been shown from all communities across these many decades.

I will continue to support those individuals and organizations that are continuing the fight, particularly those that are on front lines advocating for education, resources, and other supportive services. And I will continue to offer my voice to the broader chorus that is making sure this remains a high priority until a cure is found.


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