Why we walk: Stories from and about AIDS Walk

Compiled and Edited by Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly

Participants from all walks, gathered in Pioneer Courthouse Square, get fired up just before start time.
There aren’t many events that bring our city together like AIDS Walk does year after year. And as Cascade AIDS Project grows and expands, the walk follows suit. This year, CAP aims to raise over $450,000, which would mark another record-breaking effort, providing vital funds to essential prevention, education, and outreach.

Everyone knows CAP provides testing and prevention services—what many don’t realize is the ways CAP fills the gap between despair and hope, serving as the difference-maker for countless people. The organization helps people secure housing and find essential medical care; they provide emotional support and life skills training. Their services are as diverse as the people they serve.

The walk is right around the corner — Sept. 23 — and there’s still plenty of time to sign up, raise money, and walk. And to help nudge you in the right direction — and perhaps even inspire you, we’ve started to collect stories from various voices in our community, stories that offer insight into the power behind this critical event.

“I walk for my friends who are no longer here. I came out in 1987, and very quickly my closest friends were members of the drag community — most were drag queens. They helped me grow and learn and become who I was meant to be — and I could never forget them. Of all my friends, those mentors, I’d say 90 percent of are now gone, and that saddens me not only for my personal loss, but for our community as a whole.” –Kevin Cook (Poison Marie Waters)

“I was diagnosed with HIV in 1996, and at that time I couldn’t imagine telling anyone except the people who were closest to me. Over the following years I became less fearful of the stigma attached to being HIV-positive — and now I’m as open as I can be about it. Much of the credit for this freedom goes to my incredibly supportive friends and family — and I know the work CAP does has been vital in fostering acceptance and understanding of HIV and HIV-positive people. AIDS Walk is an amazing demonstration of community spirit and it allows me to see and be a part of Portland’s compassionate nature in a very real way.” –Jim Kennedy

David Behrend (right)

 “I walk because I still can to honor friends and loved ones who have passed away. My story is long — I have lost many — over 100 — since the outbreak of HIV/AIDS. I continue to walk and raise money because by walking, I hope to make a difference, to make people aware. I have some special emotion with this year’s walk; my mother passed away in January and left a significant amount of money in honor of me and my partner. I also like to remind people of Elizabeth Taylor’s quote: ‘It’s no one’s fault but it’s everyone’s problem.’”–David Behrend

“I’ve been involved with AIDS Walk for many, many years — way back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when it was called ‘From All Walks of Life,’ I was on the planning committee. They called me the ‘human rolodex’ because I remembered phone numbers from sponsors and contacts from memory. I remember the first year it really took off and thousands of people showed up. The walk was a very important part of my life then, and it still is. I still get choked up, on the morning of the walk, when I see so many people gathered in memory of friends and family. Some of them were babies back then; now they are adults with children of their own, and are carrying their own kids in honor of William and Rex and Corey and …well, the list is too long for me to share here.” –Byron Beck

“CAP and AIDS Walk are about creating possibilities that weren’t available to people living with HIV/AIDS in our recent history. Organizations like CAP have changed our collective experience with HIV/AIDS. I support CAP and AIDS Walk for two primary reasons: I believe the work CAP does to increase awareness, provide testing, and support people living with HIV is a critical part of maintaining our community’s overall health. And they are a trusted organization that stays true to their mission. I know my contribution is going toward something tangible that makes a real difference in people’s lives.” –Kendall Clawson

“I walk to make a difference, to feel connected, to make noise. It’s been over 20 years since I first tested HIV-positive. I’ve watched dear friends and acquaintances pass over the years. For me, however, walking is not about those lost — it’s about tomorrow. I feel like we can truly change the course of this epidemic when we’re all in it together. I feel powerful filling the streets of downtown Portland and walking in a single purpose to raise awareness and political will. Twenty years of living with HIV, and for the first time in my life, thanks to new research, I believe we will get to the other side. I believe we’ve passed the halfway point, and we’ll get there, but only with us walking together.” –Michael Kaplan

“Since working at CAP, I have had the privilege of being a go-to friend on the subject of HIV/AIDS. I am not an expert, a doctor, or any other medical provider. I am a paper pusher who works at a nonprofit that at its core saves lives — by testing, educating, and supporting those at risk and those living with the virus. I get to be a listener and a shoulder to cry on. I feel lucky. By what seems like osmosis, I have learned a lot about HIV and AIDS. I have met many heroes living with the disease and many who struggle daily. This is why I ask for your support. To help my best friends living with HIV, to help my best friends at risk of HIV, and to make the world an easier place to live, laugh, and love in.” –Michael Sorensen

Stay with PQ’s blog in the weeks and days leading up to the walk — we’ve got many more stories to share. And we hope to see you on the morning of Sept. 23.