Michael Emanuel Rajner

Where are the torch bearers? A World AIDS Day 2009 Message from the Florida Panhandle

Filed By Michael Emanuel Rajner | November 30, 2009 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Butch McKay, HIV/AIDS, World AIDS Day

Butch McKay, a dear friend and champion for the AIDS community, shared his message for World AIDS Day 2009.

Tivvis-Quilt Panel.JPGButch serves as the executive director for the Okaloosa AIDS Service & Information Services (AIDS Oasis) in Fort Walton Beach, FL. Annually, AIDS Oasis hosts Positive Living, a critical conference providing people living with HIV/AIDS a direct lifeline to latest information on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and advocacy.

He dedicates this year's World AIDS Day message to Tivvis.

Thanks Tivvis for making me promise to get involved. It has brought purpose to my life!

I am always a bit taken back when World AIDS Day arrives each year, because it seems impossible that another year has slipped by me and into the history books. This year the events will be a mixed bag of emotions for me. The year began with a positive focus, the inauguration of a new administration making many promises pertaining to HIV/AIDS. Some movement has been realized, as we celebrate the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act and the willingness of Washington to listen to those most affected by HIV through a series of town hall meetings around the country, signaling the beginning of work on a National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

However there is so much more that is needed.

Progress is always too slow and a little short, but we must push forward year after year. On the negative side, 2009 started out with the loss of perhaps the greatest HIV/AIDS advocate of all time, as we learned of the untimely passing of Martin Delaney of Project Inform. For those of us who loved him so much, he will always be Marty. While World AIDS Day began as a memorial to those who have passed away due to complications of AIDS, it has also become a time to celebrate those same lives and the lives of others who stood beside them, honoring them for their brave and courageous contributions. I would be remiss not to honor Marty this World AIDS Day. Although he did not have HIV, he saw AIDS as something that greatly affected him and he spent his life trying to make things better for those who were HIV infected or affected like himself. Marty changed the way the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies responded not only to AIDS, but healthcare in general. It has been almost a year since Marty passed and no one that I can point to has picked up the torch he left behind, but someone desperately needs too. Maybe it is too heavy. We are in a crisis in healthcare and AIDS care in America and we need thousands of torch bearers to step up and deliver our messages. I will light a candle in honor of Marty and pray for his replacement torch bearer. Thanks Marty for all you accomplished. Our hearts are still heavy and somewhat empty from your passing. We miss you my friend!

Peaches.jpgI will also light a candle for another great spirit that recently passed from our midst, but not from our hearts. This candle will honor Evelyn "Peaches" Phillips, an angel of love, hope and optimism. Peaches was one of the leaders in the HIV Movement in Florida, forever speaking her mind and helping others. She was comfortable in a public forum and her message was well received. She always came prepared with facts and figures to compliment her passion. When Peaches spoke people listened. I will miss her warming smile, positive attitude, and contagious optimism. She leaves us with yet another torch. Where are the torch bearers?

I have been honored with a couple of invitations to speak during World AIDS Day week. December 1, BASIC of NWFL in Panama City will celebrate its 20th Anniversary and they have invited all founders, former staff and board members back to help with the recognition events. Congratulations to BASIC for being a beacon to the community, for two decades, lighting a safe and secure path for people to follow. I look forward to sharing memories, as well as hope for a bright future for them. I have also been invited to speak at the Connections 09 Conference in Jacksonville on December 3rd. I look forward to bringing a message of unity, honoring the power of individuality, while promoting the importance of joining together as one for the common good of us all.

As we honor our heroes past and present, with candles, prayers, and words of comfort and support on this World AIDS Day, let us not forget the task ahead. HIV rates are soaring, resources are drying up and advocacy has lost its way. It is in our power to change all of this...are we up to the challenge? I hope so, because if we aren't, next year more candles will be lit and more names will be read, hopefully not yours or your loved ones. Our lives are in our hands. Be responsible.

Hold the love of those you remember in your heart, never let them be forgotten, and honor them with your work. They are still deserving, they entrusted us with their hopes and dreams that went unrealized. Make them proud and make yourself proud. Thanks for playing a role.

We can and will win this fight against AIDS!

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