HIV Arkansas hosted their first Annual World AIDS Day Ceremony on Thursday, December 1st 2011 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville. Nearly 30 people gathered in a reverent night of remembrance as 30 Candles were lit at various times during the ceremony commemorating the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic. The ceremony consisted of personal stories from survivors of HIV and AIDS, friends and family members along with special music all of which were touching and heartfelt.
Vice President of HIV Arkansas, Michael Burks, a 7 year survivor of HIV, began the evening with a personal message about courage and hope followed by David Smiley, President of HIV Arkansas, who shared his story as a 26 year survivor. Reverend Jerry Cook, from Dallas, Texas, shared his ministerial perspective as he recalled visiting the hospital rooms of young men who were dying from AIDS back in the early days of the epidemic. Patrice Stewart, Vice President of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of Northwest Arkansas addressed the audience in a heartwarming and emotional story; the tragic loss of her son, Jim. She shared the intense battle he fought with the disease as she recalled the struggles that were routine in the medical field, the ignorance of so many people, and, the overwhelming feelings that came with what was then considered an eminent and ultimate “death sentence”. Each story added to the ambiance of a ceremony that was reverent and hopeful.
The closing of the ceremony was a powerful musical piece called “Hands” performed by a small female quartet comprised of four ladies who are members of a larger group, Harmonia from the Fayetteville area. The musical number and their voices were angelic.
Adding to the grand finale of the evening was a photo of all the people who had attended the ceremony placing their hands around the 30 candles flickering on the table signifying we are united in this battle against HIV and AIDS and will continue to keep the light of hope burning bright for a cure.