With World AIDS Day coming up on Saturday, city leaders and advocates kicked off a weeklong awareness campaign Monday at Jacksonville’s City Hall with the 19th annual AIDs Quilt Ceremony.
The quilts, intended to be a visual reminder of the Aids epidemic, are made up of made up of squares containing the names of people who have died from the illness.
The Lee High School Choir opened the ceremony with a rendition of the song We are the World, which was followed by more songs and speakers. Mayor Lenny Curry then issued a proclamation recognizing the occasion and supporting those affected by AIDS.
“We must do all we can as a community to help educate and inform the public on ways to prevent the spread of HIV,” he said. “We must do all that we can as a community to show compassion and care for individuals living with this illness and the families that support them.”
More than 6,000 Duval County residents live with HIV or AIDS. WJCT News reported in 2016 that Duval had the third highest rate of new HIV cases among metro areas in Florida.
This year’s World Aids Day Committee Chair Justin Bell said the message he wants to get across is that the illness affects everyone.
“It doesn’t care about your religious beliefs. It doesn’t care about your age,” Bell said. “It doesn’t care about your money and it doesn’t care about your political affiliation.
Bell, who is also the Regional Representative for the Northeast Florida Chapter of the AIds Memorial Quilt, said one of the reasons for Jacksonville’s relatively high HIV rate is stigma.
“I consider Jacksonville to have it’s bible belt,” he said. “These are our religious affiliations that will not have any conversation that would be conducive to good health.
Bell said people who are most at risk are those between the ages of 13 and 24, as well as those over the age of 50. He recommends that everyone above the age of 13 get tested for HIV.
Bell’s advocacy was sparked by his own diagnosis. He was diagnosed in 2007, following an earlier medical procedure, and he said he was not expected to survive. So this battle is very personal for him.
“I will not stop doing what I am doing - advocating and preaching ‘let’s get to zero, as a village’ - unless one of two things happen: I can no longer do it or I am dead,” Bell said.
Today’s ceremony was the first of a series of events this week, leading up to World Aids Day.
Calendar of Jacksonville Events Leading Up To World Aids Day
Tuesday, November 27
Condom Blitz, 10:00am - 2:00pm. at various locations. Contact Angel Kalafatis-Russell at (904) 386-8779 for additional information.
Wednesday, November 28
World AIDS Day College Outreach, UNF and FSCJ (multiple campuses), 10:00am-2:00pm. Contact Angel Kalafatis-Russell at (904) 386-8779 for additional information.
Thursday, November 29
World AIDS Day College Outreach, Jacksonville University, 10:00am-2:00pm. Contact Angel Kalafatis-Russell at (904) 386-8779 for additional information.
Poetry Slam/Spoken Word, Mary’s Pub House at 901 King St. Jacksonville, FL 32204, 6:30pm-9:00pm. Contact Angel Kalafatis-Russell at (904) 386-8779 for additional information.
Friday, November 30
Awards Luncheon, Omni Hotel, 11:30am. Cost $45 per ticket if purchased before November 9, 2017 and $50 per ticket if purchased after November 9, 2017. Contact Sherda Pierre at (904) 356-1612 Ext. 120 for additional information.
Ultimate Runway Fashion Show, 700 E. Union Street, 7:00pm, Tickets and additional information available here.
Saturday, December 1
Memorial Walk at 5:30pm followed by a Memorial Service of Remembrance & Hope at 6:00pm, West Union Missionary Baptist Church, 1605 W Beaver St, Jacksonville, FL 32209. Contact Justin Bell at (904) 556-2312 for additional information.