On Sunday, September 25, Birmingham AIDS Outreach will host the 25th Annual Magic City AIDS Walk and 5k Run at Railroad Park. The event, according to the BAO, “raises money and awareness for the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Birmingham metro area,” and is the longest-running event of its kind in the state.
In anticipation of the milestone event, Weld spoke with BAO Development Director Jamie Whitehurst about the significance of the anniversary and what has changed in Birmingham’s battle against HIV/AIDS over the past quarter-century.
Weld: What has been the progression of the Magic City AIDS Walk over the past 25 years?
Jamie Whitehurst: The Magic City AIDS Walk started 25 years ago in 1991. While planning the first AIDS Walk, volunteers and staff were concerned about how well received such an event would be in Birmingham. (It was a much different time back then.)
During the 1990s the Magic City AIDS Walks was heavily attended with upwards of 1,000 people raising nearly $100,000 per year. In the early 2000s AIDS Walks across the country started decreasing in size as HIV/AIDS received less attention from media sources.
In the last several years, BAO has worked hard to increase attendance by emphasizing that this event is family, kid and pet-friendly. It’s a time to honor those who have lost the battle and celebrate achievements in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Attendance at the Magic City AIDS Walk now averages 600-800 each year.
Weld: Twenty-five years is a good milestone to look at progress that’s being made in the Birmingham community. In terms of community outreach, what has changed over that time period? What have been some significant signs of progress?
Whitehurst: Twenty-five years certainly is a milestone and the face of HIV/AIDS has changed in many ways. Twenty-five years ago, in 1991, HIV/AIDS was known as a gay disease, and we were reminded of that each day with horrible stories of young men who were sick, dying and often abandoned by their families. The advocates and guardian angels of HIV patients in those days faced discrimination, fear and hatred from the public. There are so many stories of hope and love from those dark days — stories that we can’t forget.
Today we understand that everyone is affected by HIV. HIV does not discriminate. Thanks to research at UAB and other institutions, HIV positive individuals can now live healthy productive lives and have children and grandchildren. For the first time AIDS Service Organizations like BAO have elderly clients, because they are living longer, healthier lives. Witnessing the diversity of our advocates who attend the AIDS Walk each year is a sign of progress that excites me. On Sunday, for our 25th Annual Magic City AIDS Walk, you’ll see families, children, churches and people from the LGBTQ community all rallying together to show hope, love, and acceptance.
Weld: One thing that’s really stuck out to me is the great relationship BAO has with businesses in the community, who work with you to raise money and awareness. Could you talk a little bit about those relationships and what they’ve contributed to BAO’s overall efforts?
Whitehurst: BAO has been blessed in so many ways by a community of advocates from our Birmingham neighbors and local businesses. Birmingham truly is a philanthropic town that believes in supporting local causes. Without the continuous support that BAO has received from local businesses for over 31 years, we would not have made it this far. BAO is also fortunate to work within a network of local and statewide agencies that truly support each other. Our community partners including UAB, AIDS Alabama, Aletheia House and others are working together every day to make Birmingham a healthier city.
The 25th Magic City AIDS Walk and 5k Run takes place at Railroad Park on Sunday, September 25. The event begins at 4:30 p.m. Participation in park activities or the one-mile walk is free; participation in the 5k requires a $25 registration fee. One hundred percent of donations go to BAO. For more information, visit birminghamaidsoutreach.org/aids-walk-5k-run.