Sunday, October 14. 2012 around 5:30am I got out of bed to prepare for AIDS WALK Los Angeles. I was really tired from the day before because I was hired to photograph Breaking the Silence which is a one day conference for women of color that focuses on issues such as self-esteem, self-love and health issues including HIV and AIDS. I had then met friends who have moved to California from Germany. We grabbed something to eat at Juicy Burger on Hollywood Boulevard and ended up getting trapped inside for several hours because of some punk kids on skateboards deciding to start a commotion which led to LAPD in full riot gear being called out with back up from other police enforcement.
So it felt like 5:30am came as soon as I closed my eyes.
AIDS WALK LA is presented by AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), one of the largest and oldest AIDS Service Organization (ASO) in Los Angeles and the United States. APLA offers a wide array of services free of charge to people living with HIV including access to case management, food bank, treatment education, oral health, home health and transportation services.
In 1985 APLA held the world’s first ever AIDS WALK bringing in $673,000. Today AIDS WALK LA is the longest running AIDS WALK event in the world and the largest AIDS fundraiser in California. This year’s AIDS WALK raised over $2,912,000 and over 30,000 men, women and children came out for the walk.
I’m proud to report this year I raised over $1,100, beating what I raised last year as an individual and as a team. I also beat my personal goal I set for this year. My friend and team member Tabitha came with her awesome smile and beautiful energy to walk as a member of my team. This is the second year I’ve formed team Project KengiKat
It was a beautiful day for walking for a great cause. Temperatures reached the low 90’s, but this did not stop people from having a great time and celebrating life. Paying tribute to those who have lost their battle with AIDS and honoring the over 60,000 people currently LIVING with HIV or AIDS in Los Angeles.
It was so nice to see people come together not as a community, but as HUMANITY in hopes of showing their love and respect to those of us who are living with HIV and standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity in the quest for a cure.
Everyone was smiling and happy. I had the pleasure of not just being one of the of photographers who capture this event, but again this year had the honor of hearing stories from people I provide peer support for. Families who said “thank you for caring, Kengi” and once again having someone say to me “I am here because you took the time to listen and not make me feel any worse than I already did.”
While taking photos in the morning I had the chance to meet people from Being Alive, an organization that was my blessing in the storm during the first years of being diagnosed. It was such an honor to be able to meet and shake hands with people I’ve never met, but know me from my community work, my vlog, blog and articles I’ve written here on PositiveLite.com.
To say that I was very tired by the end of the day is a huge understatement. I had had very little sleep in the past three days and I was so looking for some much needed rest. I was walked into West Hollywood Park to refill my camelback and just as I finished this cute couple walked over to me smiling.
“Is your name Kengi?” they asked
“Yes” I replied
They told me their names and shared a bit about their own stories. One of them is positive and the other is negative. They are 22 years old living with their parents, but have to keep their homosexuality quiet because their parents would not be supportive. In fact they told me they would be thrown out and going to school would no longer be an option.
“Do you remember your video ‘live in peace’ on YouTube?”
“Yes, I think I made it maybe a year or two ago.” I said
“It gave us both a new perspective on things and made us take a hard look at homelessness over living in peace until we can stand on our own two feet”
They went on to tell me that they are not ashamed of who they are, nor do they feel like they are hiding who they are by living in peace with their parents over living in terror on the streets as homeless people. We talked about how they support each other and have learned to understand that their parents are not bad people, just uneducated and a bit ignorant when it comes to understanding being gay and living with HIV.
We talked for a bit longer before they both gave me a hug, telling me to “get some rest superman, cause you look tired.” My heart jumped and I told them thank you for sharing their powerful stories with me and I promised to go home and rest.
It's days like these where I get to hear from people like the couple I spoke to. Days like these where I get to meet people who know me, but I’ve never met them. Days like these to remind me to keep pressing forward with the work I created while I was homeless. Days like these where I am reminded that I do not need to be rich, don’t need some fancy car or a corner office. Days where I am reminded that what you do from you heart is what matters the most and days where I’m so happy I took the time to do what I can, when I can for someone in need. Days like these where I am damn proud of the work I do and the people I try so hard to serve. It's days like these when I’m reminded that what I do matters to so many people…people I may never meet.
AIDS WALK LOS ANGELES reminds me of something I said to myself the day “Mr. Carr you are HIV positive” was yelled into my hospital room.
“I wont give up. I wont be a prisoner to HIV and this too shall pass”
This year’s AIDS WALK LOS ANGELES has given me the courage to share my HIV story in my next book.
Visiit my photo stream for the pictures.