Why I Walk: Alyssa Atkinson on AIDS Walk Detroit, Sept. 14

Why I Walk: Alyssa Atkinson on AIDS Walk Detroit, Sept. 14nicholas-schrock-allstate

(Alyssa Atkinson, Sept. 5, 2014)

About a month ago I went to put the date for this year’s AIDS Walk on my calendar, only to realize that the date of the walk, September 14th, just happens to fall on Grandparents Day. What a strange twist of fate I thought, considering that the reason I am walking this year is for my grandfather, Roger Atkinson, who passed away from AIDS when I was a little girl. It was right around 1995 when he passed and I was only 7, nobody told me at that time why he was gone and I didn’t really think to ask. A year or two later a commercial would Judy_Palmer30yearscome on TV about HIV and AIDS that I will never forget. Being a child who thought I knew everything and wanting to sound like I in fact did, I turned to my mother and said “I think people just get AIDS so they can be on TV”, I can still see the man in that commercials face perfectly in my mind. My mother was appalled, “Alyssa, don’t ever say that! Somebody very close to us died from AIDS and you have no idea what you’re talking about”, my grandfather was the only person I knew who had died at that point and I knew immediately who it was.

In the years to follow I would find out all kinds of amazing things about this virus and about my grandfather. The one thing I learned that stands out the loudest is that because of fear and ignorance his extended family completely cut him out of their lives. It wasn’t until at least 10 years later that I would find out he has a sister, who was married with children whom he loved, that he was never allowed to see after that. I would hear the story of why, the “excuse” is how I thought of it. They were afraid to let him in their house, afraid for him to hug them or sit on their couch or use their toilet. All of this time later and I still find it almost impossible to forgive them, you see this was the greatest man I had ever known, and he had hugged me and kissed me and sat on the couch next to me and I spiritual life ferndalenever got AIDS – how could they be so dumb I thought. But how could they have not been is the real question? How could they have known that none of those things were true if nobody took the time to educate them?

Sometimes I still feel angry, I hate knowing that if he had had cancer or a tumor or some other “socially acceptable” disease he could have shared his fears of dying with his colleagues at Chrysler or his friends at the Baptist church. Instead, because of the automatic assumption that only homosexuals could and did get AIDS in that time, he spent 11 years knowing he was going to die, and instead of being consoled by the people who claimed to love him he was shut out of their homes and their hearts. Even when he did finally pass in the mid-90’s it was still so taboo that nobody dared say out loud what had taken him.

I love the Michigan AIDS Coalition because of what it represents to me, it represents a present and a future where nobody with this disease has to be treated this way. Where it is socially acceptable and where seed22_Angela_Fisherinstead of condemning those who have it we work together to prevent it. Where they will be surrounded by love, support, and understanding. Where their loved ones can and will be educated on the realities that come with being HIV positive, because how will they know not to treat someone the way Roger Atkinson was treated if nobody tells them otherwise?

AIDS Walk Detroit provides financial support for programs in HIV prevention, education and services for HIV positive individuals. The organization promotes public awareness through events and activities to ensure people living with HIV/AIDS are treated with dignity and respect.

In 1991 a group of local merchants and shop keepers in Royal Oak started AIDS Walk Detroit as a ‘simple request’ to raise money for individuals reeling from the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Today AIDS Walk Detroit has Candlewickshop_May2014evolved into the largest grassroots HIV/AIDS fundraiser in the state of Michigan. Over the past 23 years AIDS Walk Detroit has raised $3.7 million to benefit HIV/AIDS services here in Michigan.

This year AIDS Walk Detroit will take place on Sunday September 14th at the Royal Oak Farmers Market. They have ambitiously set a goal of raising $220,000 through this year’s event and mobilizing over 3,500 participants to participate. See more at: http://aidswalkdetroit.kintera.org. To donate specifically to Alyssa Atkinson’s page, benefitting Michigan AIDS Coalition, go to:


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