The World AIDS Day Ceremony of Celebration and Remembrance brought together community members in honoring the lives that have been and are affected by HIV/AIDS.
Around 30 people gathered in the Fountain Square Mall Ballroom from 5:30 to 7 p.m. for a candlelight remembrance, a performance by the Quarryland Men’s Chorus and the presentation of the Celia Busch Making a Difference Award. The award is given annually to someone committed to helping those living with HIV/AIDS.
Meredith Short, a member of the Community AIDS Action Group of South Central Indiana, said the event is meant to be a meaningful night for everyone who has been affected by the disease.
She said even if they don’t have a large turnout, it’s an important event to have every year no matter what.
“There are a handful of people who really appreciate being able to attend and remember their loved ones that they have lost,” Short said.
After a short reception, the ceremony began with opening remarks from Short. She said the theme this year was increasing impact through transparency, accountability and partnerships.
“We have the tools to end the endemic through testing, Pre-exposure prophylaxis and treatment,” Short said. “We’re grateful for the progress, optimistic for the future, yet we continue to grieve for those no longer here to see all of our new accomplishments.”
Pre-exposure prophylaxis is also known as PrEP.
Following her remarks, the Quarryland’s Men Chorus performed. The group works to create a performance-based community for gay and bisexual men and allies in South Central Indiana. The group finished its performance by singing “Seasons of Love,” from the musical “RENT.”
After the performance and the World AIDS Day Proclamation, Jim Stevens sang “Unanswered Prayers.”
The Celia Busch Making a Difference Award was presented by Emily Brinegar, the Prevention Coordinator at Positive Link HIV Services.
According to the Community AIDS Action Group website, the award is given to person that consistently shows compassion, concern, empathy, understanding, advocacy and commitment for individuals and families that have been touched by the disease.
The award was given to Jill Stowers. Stowers, 41, is the Clinical Lead Manager of Community Health at Positive Link, where she has worked for 12 years. Positive Link provides services to those affected by HIV/AIDS at no cost.
Stowers said she knows many past recipients of the award.
“When I look at some of the people who have received this award in the past, I know what they did, and I know what they contributed to the field in order to receive the award,” Stowers said. “To be in that group of people is just kind of incredible."
Stowers has worked in HIV care for 17 years. When she first began, Stowers worked directly with clients in care coordination and as a housing care manager. Today at Positive Link, Stowers‘ work is largely behind the scenes.
“Her grant writing skills are incredible,” Short said. “A lot of people don't know how much she does.”
Stowers said Positive Link is largely government-funded. This means Stowers has to do a lot of grant writing, budgeting and reporting. Stowers said she thinks of her work as clearing the path so that her staff can get the services to the folks that they’re trying to serve.
“I'm not doing the kind of direct work that you see,” Stowers said.
Stowers is working mostly behind the scenes and said she was excited to receive the award because it’s often given to those working directly with clients.
Stowers said she finds her work important because without administrative tasks, staff who work directly with clients would not be able to help them.
“I know what it means to our clients to have that person walking the path with them,” Stowers said. “I know that they can't do it if they don't have the resources.”
Bloomington resident Dean Mead, 51, said it’s important to remember those who have been lost due to HIV/AIDS.
“It's very important to be able to recognize everybody who is fighting the illness and who's losing the battle," Mead said.
Mead said he is an activist for those who are HIV positive. He is also HIV positive.
In 2005, Mead said he was fired from his job at Morrison’s TV and Appliance and kicked out of his home for being HIV positive. Mead won a case that year against his employer for being discriminated against.
Although HIV and AIDS is no longer such a hot-button topic, Mead said it’s still important to talk about.
“Discrimination is still out there,” Mead said. “In order to keep advancing in today's time with the ignorance and education, it's the only way we can by keeping it in the spotlight.”
Mead said for him, the event allows him to remember his husband and his brother, both of whom died as a result of HIV/AIDS.
“Throughout the year we all see people come and go in our lives, but memories are always there,” Mead said. “For me, this is a chance to just let my emotions go and be able to feel.”
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