A few weeks ago I decided that I was going to participate in my first ever AIDS WALK LA. Not only that, I was going to form a team of friends and supporters to join me. Once again I set out to raise awareness and get people involved in HIV and AIDS and once again I was completely successful.
Pops always told me that I never needed to be the brightest light and that I never needed to be the biggest or most important person involved. In fact he told me I didn't need to be important at all. “Always do your best, son, and that is all that matters.”
It is estimated there are 62,000 people living with HIV here in Los Angeles. According to the Homeless Service Authority there are 793 homeless people living with AIDS in the City of Los Angeles. Since I was diagnosed with HIV while I was homeless, I know this number is a great deal higher than what is reported. For 27 years AIDS WALK LA has raised vital funds to serve people living with HIV or AIDS right here in Los Angeles.
I set a goal to have 10 team members and together we would raise $500. I also set a personal goal for myself to raise $1,000. I was able to recruit 7 people for the team and as of this morning, we've raised $1,015 and I raised $605 of this total. Even though I fell short of my team goal and my personal fundraising goal, I am proud of myself and the efforts of all my team members. In fact all but one of my team members are HIV positive and all of us are formerly homeless, so I think we did a pretty damn good job.
Not only was this my first year walking, but I was also one of the AIDS WALK LA photographers, which was such a huge honor for me. I say this because I've asked to be part of other events such as Gay Pride and AIDS Life Cycle and even asked to be put on the list as an available photographer, but to no avail. So when I actually received a return phone call and email from Shaun, I must say that I was rather shocked and then Leif reached out and things were set.
The energy of the day was awesome, I had such a great time. From start to finish I was so happy I volunteered to walk and raise funds, but also happy that I asked to be a photographer. My friends were equally happy with being part of this truly special day.
As a gay man with HIV, this besides being a writer on Positive Life is the first time I've ever felt not just welcomed, but an important part of the gay community, the first time I did not walk away with a very sour taste in my mouth and the first time I did not receive any stigma from the very place it should be absent. My heart and soul were happy all day long.
As a published photographer (I always giggle when I say or type this) this was such a cool event to be part of. For those of you who love photography as much as I do, but have never been part of the official team, let me just tell you of the energy of being able to jump into the crowds, move around freely and have people excited to have you take their picture. To be able to simply walk up to people and say “can you hold this sign and strike a pose for me”. To have people shuttle you around and get people to pose for your camera is priceless and to have people high five you all day long is the best feeling ever.
On a personal level to have someone treat you with respect, treat you like an equal and professional was mind blowing for me because from the “community” this has never happened for me before. Leif and his team were awesome. From the very start, to the very end, for me that says a great deal as to why AIDS WALK LA is as successful as it is.
Leif thanked us (photographers) every step of the way, he made sure we had what we needed and was willing to help us if we needed it. The sign of a true leader is the one who can lead by example, but is aso a team player. He made me feel welcome and I heard the same things from the other photographs as well.
My day came to an end with someone I've never met running up to me screaming my name, then hugging me so tight while crying. He pulled away and said “I'm so honored to meet you Kengi. I know this sounds crazy, but you saved my life. I read your blog and watch your youtube channel and because of this I've decided to live. I'm no longer a prisoner nor am I ashamed of HIV or being gay. I owe all of this to you. Thank you for doing what you do and please don't stop. You saved my life.....you really saved my life.”
Listening to him speak I could feel the tears forming in the corners of my eyes and then they began to fall down my face. Before I knew it I was crying right along with him because in that moment I could hear the voice of my father telling me that all I really needed to do was what I could when I could, but more importantly once again God had provided yet another confirmation to continue doing what I am doing because it reached far more people than I'm aware of and it serves them well.
AIDS WALK LA was simply awesome. I spent the day with my friends, doing two things I truly love... photography and being of service. I can't wait to be part of this next year.