20th annual AIDS Walk making a difference in the southern Illinois community


Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz

Pulliam Hall is reflected in a puddle on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, outside of Pulliam Hall in Carbondale, Illinois.

By Elizabeth Biernacki, Staff Reporter

Members of the southern Illinois community can come out and show their support for an important cause at the 20th annual AIDS Walk on March 23.

The walk starts at 11 a.m. at the Newman Center and was coordinated by the Southern Illinois AIDS Coalition and Wally Paynter, the founder of the AIDS Walk.

The walk also features an educational health fair starting at 10 a.m. The health fair will offer free testing for HIV, outreach tables, time to make posters, a social media campaign and breakfast, according to Paynter.


“We’re trying to launch a social media campaign where people will take pictures [and] make signs about the AIDS walk and post them on their personal social media pages,” Paynter said.

Paynter said the hope is that hundreds of people will post and from there, thousands of others will be informed about the issue and more people will help contribute by participating or donating.

“We’re hoping to raise $10,000; at the moment we’ve raised about $2,600,” Paynter said.

Paynter said the organization uses the money raised to buy grocery store gift cards for low income households in the area impacted by HIV and AIDS.

“People don’t think about HIV being in southern Illinois, they don’t think about HIV being in Carbondale, they don’t think about people with HIV being at SIU,” Paynter said.

There are approximately 34,441 people in Illinois living with HIV, according to online HIV mapping site AIDSVu.

“It’s a crisis in this world, and in southern Illinois there are enough cases of HIV among a population between the ages of 15 and 24 that we need to be paying attention,” Father Joseph Brown, an Africana Studies professor at SIU and an honorary chair for the event, said.


Brown has been participating in this event since it began. He said it is an important issue to him and he hopes it will become an important issue to others in the community and at SIU.

“I don’t want to ever see issues like HIV and AIDS education and prevention or care be relegated to something that people either don’t talk about or don’t make a priority,” Brown said.

Brown said he has lost many good friends and family due to HIV and AIDS and has experienced the way the illness has torn apart lives and families.

“I have seen how their families or their communities treated them, how they didn’t want to talk about it, how they couldn’t,” Brown said. “They weren’t comfortable–– and the pain that they went through as if having an illness is also some kind of moral judgement.”

HIV and AIDS can affect anyone and the purpose of the walk is to raise awareness and educate community members on how they can help prevent the disease for themselves and others.

“HIV is in our community and we can make a difference,” Paynter said.

Community members interested can volunteer or donate here.

Staff reporter Elizabeth Biernacki can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @EBiernacki_DE

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