From left, School of Medicine students Jessica Everett, Phillip Kucab and Alicia Eby are among the 2012 World AIDS Day Detroit organizers.
WSU medical students gathered for a photo shoot earlier this month to promote World AIDS Day Detroit.
What started as one Wayne State University School of Medicine student’s electrifying wake-up call to the community that AIDS and HIV are still a health threat has grown into a multi-day, multi-event awareness campaign involving hundreds of community volunteers, business leaders, youth leaders and medical students from across Michigan.
World AIDS Day Detroit was launched in 2011 by School of Medicine student Phillip Kucab, Class of 2014, and observed Dec. 1, 2011, on the 30th anniversary of the identification of the disease. Surrounding events raised $25,000, mobilized the Detroit community and memorialized those lost to the disease. It returns this week with a community breakfast, a film premiere and what promises to be a rocking party in a rather unconventional location.
The party, dubbed the “Red & White Event,” is set for 6 p.m. Dec. 1 inside the Michigan State University Detroit Center parking garage at 3408 Woodward Ave. It will feature a performance by Detroit-based musician Robin Horlock, more music from DJ “Mikey B” and a World AIDS Day Commemoration at 7 p.m. The venue can hold at least 1,000 party-goers, and Kucab expects nearly that many to attend.
“Last year was a huge start. We were able to commemorate the 30th year of AIDS in a huge way. It brought the AIDS service organizations and people affected by HIV together. If you’ve lost somebody affected by this, you want to know they’re not forgotten. That in itself was a huge accomplishment,” he said.
Almost before the doors closed on the final event last year, people asked what next year would bring, and how they could participate. The Red & White Event was the answer.
“It’s a way for us to come together as a community and commemorate World AIDS Day,” Kucab said. “That is what it’s about – empowering people to act, creating a crowd willing to act.”
Guests are encouraged to wear red and white attire as they sip and nosh on food and drinks donated by the Roostertail of Detroit. The business also is donating its event planning services.
Tickets are $40 per person, with proceeds benefitting World AIDS Day Detroit initiatives. Discounted student tickets are available for $15 each. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.red-white.eventbrite.com/
Tickets will also be available at the door.
To kick off a week of World AIDS Day events, volunteers are traveling in and around Detroit with panels of the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt now through Nov. 30, including stops at the Spirit of Detroit statue, WSU’s Shiffman Medical Library, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Comerica Park, Ford Field and others.
On campus, WSU’s Public Health Student Organization will host “Food for Thought: The Criminalization of HIV/AIDS” from noon to 2:30 p.m. Nov. 29 in the Green Lecture Hall of Scott Hall, 540 E. Canfield, featuring speaker Trevor Hoppe, a doctoral sociology candidate at the University of Michigan.
The Mayors Breakfast, a returning event, will take place from 8 to 10 a.m. Nov. 30 at the Max M. Fisher Music Center on Woodward in Detroit, with food donated by the Roostertail. More than 250 guests are expected, including high school students, business leaders and community advocates. This year’s keynote speaker is Kali Lindsey, an HIV-positive Detroit native and director of Legislative and Public Affairs at the National Minority AIDS Council in Washington, D.C.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is expected to attend the event for the first time, a nod to the notoriety World AIDS Day Detroit has gained in just its second year.
“Sometimes you have to start with what you have and build from there, and these things will come together. It’s a sign of progress having Mayor Bing there,” Kucab said. “(I believe) this will be the first public show of support for the AIDS and HIV community from him as mayor.”
As it did last year, World AIDS Day Detroit will premiere a new film. “How to Survive a Plague” will make its Detroit debut at 1 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Compuware Theater, located on the 15th floor of the Compuware World Headquarters at 1 Campus Martius Park in Detroit. The documentary is nominated for a 2013 Film Independent Spirit Award. Tickets are $15, and include refreshments and parking in the Compuware garage. To purchase tickets in advance, visit www.surviveaplague.eventbrite.com
The film chronicles the actions of ACT UP and Treatment Action Group, two people-driven coalitions founded in the 1980s whose activism, innovation and somewhat controversial activities, including protests, changed AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition, infiltrating the pharmaceutical industry and helping to identify then-breakthrough drugs that quickly went from the science lab to the bedside in record time.
WSU medical student Joshua McKamie, Class of 2015, is helping organize an additional screening of the film at 5 p.m. Dec. 7 in WSU's Margherio Conference Center auditorium.
“As a future physician, I know that I will treat countless patients with HIV/AIDS. Spending a little time now learning more about this disease, how I can best care for someone with the virus and how I can help people to avoid getting infected in the first place is the least I can do for my future patients,” said McKamie, who serves on the WSU American Medical Student Association chapter’s Global Health committee.
“A lot of the physicians teaching us about AIDS were around when the disease first emerged, before anyone even knew what was causing it. I think it’s really exciting that my classmates and I could be part of the generation of physicians that helps to end the spread of the disease once and for all,” McKamie said.
The World AIDS Day Detroit observance ends Dec. 3 with the WSU Adult HIV/AIDS Program’s annual World AIDS Day Celebration, hosted by the Community Advisory Boards at the Kresge Eye Institute Auditorium, located at 4717 St. Antoine, Detroit. Lunch will be served at noon, with a program at 1 p.m. The event is free.
World AIDS Day was established in 1988 by the World Health Organization. Kucab, a hemophiliac who required blood transfusions as a child, grew up in that time, receiving plenty of HIV messaging and education from health care professionals as he managed his bleeding disorder and lost friends to contaminated blood transfusions, including a family member and fellow hemophiliac who contracted HIV and Hepatitis C from a transfusion. He died in 1993 at age 17.
By the late 1990s, thanks in part to the efforts of organizations like ACT UP and TAG, the public at large grew fairly complacent. AIDS became manageable.
Kucab thought the message needed to return, especially in Detroit.
“There are ZIP codes in Detroit that have prevalence of 6 percent, which we see in some Sub-Saharan African countries,” he said. “People with HIV are still battling it.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Nov. 27 chronicling the impact of HIV on the country’s youth. An estimated 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, and about 50,000 people contract HIV each year, the report stated. One in four (or 26 percent) of new infections occur in 13- to 24-years-olds. About 60 percent don’t know they are infected, the CDC said, and 54 percent of the new infections are among young gay and bisexual African-American males.
“Part of the solution to this epidemic is making sure that people at risk for contracting HIV get tested, and that people who have HIV get treatment. Treatment is prevention. We know this now,” Kucab said.
Medicine has made such strides that treatment stops the spread of the virus, he added.
“What I’ve been saying to people now is an AIDS-free generation is in sight. An AIDS-free generation is possible,” he said. “The solution is so easy. HIV is 100 percent preventable, but when people get it we can treat it. This is a problem that’s solvable. What I think we’re starting to do is remind all those people not connected (in the community) that it is still a problem and you need to get treated.”
To mark his efforts, Kucab was honored in March with the Outstanding Community Impact Award from the Michigan Campus Compact, a coalition of college and university presidents committed to fulfilling the public purposes of higher education, including the development of personal and social responsibility in education.