GREENVILLE — Montcalm Community College’s Equality Club and members of Montcalm County’s community gathered at Jackson’s Landing Park in Greenville on Saturday evening to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS, show their support for people living with HIV/AIDS and commemorate those who have died.
Christian Sowers, president of the MCC Equality Club, helped organize this year’s event so citizens could come together during the 25th annual observation of World AIDS Day.
“This is the second year doing this event,” Sowers said. “We want to bring people in our community together for awareness and understanding about this disease and the effects it has on our families and friends here in Montcalm County.”
According to the World Health Organization, World AIDS Day began in 1988 and was the first global health day to be observed by the global community. Between 2011-2015, World AIDS Days will have the theme of “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS-related Deaths.” The World AIDS Campaign to focus on zero deaths signifies a push toward greater access to treatment for all and a call for governments to act now.
In Greenville, more than 30 people came together for a candlelight vigil featuring different speakers and club members sharing stories about family and friends.
“This event is in remembrance of those who have passed of AIDS,” said Jim Fatka, faculty advisor for the MCC Equality Club.
Pastor Steve Charnley of First Methodist Church in Greenville opened and closed the vigil with prayer for tolerance, awareness and remembrance.
“This event is very important to bring awareness to our small town,” Charnley said. “I’m happy to be here supporting the students.”
After Charnley’s opening prayer, a few MCC students recited poetry and Equality Club Vice President Rebekah Hoke read an excerpt from “The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and HIV Positive,” a book by Marvelyn Brown.
“It is an inspirational true story that shares how an everyday teen refused to give up,” Hoke said. “Tonight is about remembering and a chance to understand more about HIV/AIDS.”
One Greenville mother shared the story about her son, a Greenville High School graduate who died from AIDS-related complications a few years ago. Her story painted images of a caring man who didn’t give up when he was diagnosed with this disease, how he put others first — even when he was sick — and how he fought hard right to the end.
“He passed away three years ago yesterday,” the mother said. “World AIDS Day was very close to his heart, he was very involved in his Chicago community and I believe Dan is smiling down at me for speaking on his behalf tonight.”
After she finished speaking about her son, the emotional impact of the event began to show among those attending. One young man said that her story was “pretty intense,” and Sowers shared with the crowd how everyone who came out for World AIDS Day touches his heart.
“For those of you who know me, know I can get emotional sometimes,” Sowers said. “Tonight seeing you all here in support of this day and what it stands for causes me to tear up.”
The ceremony closed with the lighting and launching of 30 sky lanterns donated by Glenn Powell.
“Those who are here were able write names of friends and loved ones on the sky lanterns before they launch them into the night,” Sowers said. “It is another way to commemorate those we have lost and that are impacted by HIV/AIDS.”