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After two years of fighting both COVID-19 and HIV remotely, one of the city’s longest-standing public health fundraisers, the AIDS Walk New York, returns to Central Park this Sunday. 

AIDS Walk New York is back this weekend. Photo supplied

Now in its 35th year, AIDS Walk New York has planned a full morning of activity —  including an opening ceremony, the traditional 4-mile walk beginning at the Naumburg Bandshell and looping up to the North Meadow and back, as well as a running race and finish line dance party back at the bandshell. Thus far the event has raised over $1.5 million dollars, with an annual goal of $3 million. 

The event was founded by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), an organization established in 1982 as a reaction to the early days of the AIDS pandemic, then simultaneously stigmatized and ignored by the federal government as a public health crisis. Founders Nathan Fain, Larry Mass, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport, Edmund White, and Larry Kramer (the playwright behind searing AIDS retrospective The Normal Heart) not only advocated for research and treatment against the new disease, but also battled discrimination lawsuits on behalf of patients unceremoniously kicked fired from their jobs and kicked out of housing. 

GMHC hosted the first AIDS Walk New York in 1986, raising as much as $5.8 million in some years. While the organization has expanded to include mental and physical health resources for those battling COVID-19 in addition to HIV/AIDS, their original mission is still at the forefront of GMCH. 

Said Jason Cianciotto, Vice President of GMCH to CBS News: “We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary and we are still here fighting to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected.” In addition to still providing free testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, prevention education, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and legal services, GMHC provides clients with weekly meals — a need that they emphasized, in the face of rising inflation, is more needed than ever. 

GMHC’s director of nutrition and meals, Grace Holihen, told CBS: “We couldn’t do it without our funders, our community. The AIDS Walk especially is a great way for us to raise money to support these, because just as our clients are experiencing those rising food costs, so are we.” 

For now, participants are happy to return to in-person fundraising and reconnecting with community members. As Shacazia Brown, team leader of the 55-person “In Memory of Wanda” team, said to CBS: “Yes, now we can hug, before we couldn’t. We’re really excited.” 

Everyone is welcome to participate — just register here…

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