It’s been 30 years since World AIDS Day was founded at the 1988 World Summit of Ministers of Health for AIDS Prevention.
For 2018 World AIDS Day, the educational theme is “Know your status.”
In Rehoboth Beach, 1994 marked the first World AIDS Day event. The tradition continues this year with a Candlelight Walk and Service of Remembrance and Hope on Dec. 1.
Residents and visitors are invited to take part, beginning with a pre-walk gathering and candle lighting at 6:15 p.m. at the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand on Rehoboth Avenue at the boardwalk. The Candlelight Walk heads out at 6:30 p.m. and will proceed down Rehoboth Avenue, ending at All Saints’ Episcopal Church. The service there will begin at 7 pm.
That service includes the reading of the names of family and friends lost to AIDS.
The commemoration, organized by CAMP Rehoboth, a local nonprofit LGBT service organization, is also a show of solidarity and a vow to continue the fight against the disease. Between 175 and 200 people show up every year, no matter what, said Murray Archibald, former president of CAMP Rehoboth and now acting executive director.
AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s and more than 35 million people have died from it this far. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, AIDS struck hard in gay-friendly Rehoboth Beach and the surrounding areas, leaving lives cut tragically short and the community grieving.
“It was such a life-changing event,” says Archibald, “cutting down young people and touching many families.”
The part of the service with the reading of the names, often spoken by siblings or friends, is a solemn and moving experience.
“It’s an honor for me to read some of the names. I always think of how many hearts were broken with each name read,” says Rehoboth resident Kathy Wiz. “I cry every year when I hear my brother Peter’s name read — even now, more than 30 years later.”
Along with the annual candlelight walk and service at a local church, the event includes a display of panels from the famed AIDS Quilt along with other remembrances.
“One year we had gigantic red ribbons strung through the entire walk,” says Archibald. “They were big, thick ribbons, and as we walked into the church you could hear the sound the ribbons made coming up the aisle. It made a huge impact,” he says.
One of the goals of World AIDS Day is to draw attention to the need for testing and early treatment for HIV. HIV testing, something that CAMP Rehoboth provides locally as well as throughout Delaware’s Sussex County, is essential for expanding treatment and ensuring that all people living with HIV can lead healthy and productive lives.
“In our remembrance, we celebrate those who passed away by recalling who they were as individuals,” says Glen Pruitt, event co-chair. “But remembering them also reminds us how far we have come in dealing with HIV/AIDS. It challenges us to work even harder until we live in a world with no new HIV infections and a world with a cure for AIDS.”