12/02/05 — Candlelight vigil pays tribute to those who live, die with AIDS

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Candlelight vigil pays tribute to those who live, die with AIDS

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 2, 2005 1:49 PM

About 30 people, flickering candles in hand, walked quietly through the side streets of Goldsboro Thursday evening in honor of World AIDS Day.

They had gathered at city hall, then marched down Mulberry Street, escorted by a Goldsboro police car. The group reached its destination, St. Mark Church of Christ, just in time before the candles' wicks ran out.

Inside the church, the participants nearly doubled for a brief program and reception.

The candlelight vigil commemorated the importance of AIDS awareness, program speaker Martha Smith said.

"We want to help eliminate this dreadful disease," she said.

St. Mark pastor Dr. Alton Smith said when the message is spread, there can be no excuses for not taking action. AIDS has affected many throughout the country, but the days of hiding or not discussing the disease and its effects are over, he said.

"Now that we have been made aware. Now that we have been informed. All of the myths that we have heard down through the years ... everything is laid out before us," he said. "It becomes our responsibility to help and to strengthen our brothers and sisters. We as a community, whether we admit it or want to recognize it, we are our brother's keeper."

Jeri Barnes knows well the historical journey since the first case of AIDS was diagnosed in the United States 20 years ago. She has waged her own battle with it for 13 years.

World AIDS Day began in 1988, she said, "back in the days when people were acting out, acting up, cutting up, lining the streets. They were so determined to have HIV and AIDS recognized, for people with the disease to be treated fairly."

Despite 20 years of dizzying technological and social change, she said, people are still dying of AIDS throughout the country and around the world. Likewise, the stigma and discrimination also linger, she said.

"People feel like they can get lost in a city where no one knows them, but the stigma is still great," she said.

This year's World AIDS Day theme is "Keep the Promise: Stop AIDS."

"We have made promises for all of these years," Ms. Barnes said. "Now, what we're saying is, we need to revisit those actions that we were to take during those years. We need to stop this disease."

Johnny Lee of Goldsboro participated in the walk to support his sister, Myra Quinn, HIV-positive for 13 years. Ms. Quinn said her medication seems to be working and she feels well, although she sometimes has to have blood transfusions.

While she also has anemia, diabetes and epilepsy, she, too, walked the route to the church.

Lee said he has had friends who died from AIDS or currently have the disease, but it wasn't as personal until it happened to his sister.

"There needs to be an education and awareness of what they have gone through," he said.

And although he walked silently among virtual strangers, he said the vigil offered a powerful, if subtle, message.

"It goes along with the awareness of how even though there are few of us, there are so many out there that don't have the support of their friends and family," he said. "Even though we may not have known them, I think it can bring a closeness to us."

H.B. and Bessie Barnes came out to support Jeri Barnes, their cousin. The cause hits home when it affects someone in your family, the couple said.

Jai McLean, affiliated with two local support organizations, the Wayne County AIDS Task Force and WayneAIDS Inc., said she was pleased with the turnout. Last year, there were only five or six who showed up, Jeri Barnes said.

A social worker, Ms. McLean said she has worked with people struggling with HIV and AIDS. She said she hopes the public will consider becoming more involved with the cause.

"I'd like to see the community treat it like it's part of the community," she said. "I'd just like to see it become bigger and not just once a year. I want next year to have a proclamation, have part of the AIDS quilt to come here."