The Long Road to Washington

As AIDS kills black America, activists try to raise awareness a step at a time

The church, she says, "is the one organization in our community that belongs to us that hasn't been taken away." But the problem, she adds, is that "some churches do not deal with HIV and AIDS, will not distribute condoms to the congregation, or don't want to deal with the real issues. The reality is that half the folks in the congregation are having sex without barriers, and for me my job as a minister is not to judge you."

It's not that people don't know that HIV is out there. "People know, but they're in denial," says Sandra. "You go into forums and show people the statistics, and they cringe. We know, but it's something we don't want to deal with. Because of our fear, we suffer. But we have to be able to move past that."

Chandler sees the consequences, but he knows that in this case, youth simply don't want to know. "Young people are being infected at an alarming rate—being young, they think they're bulletproof," he says. "Promiscuity is cool, and the consequences are not discussed in detail as they should be. I shudder to think that they're out having as much unprotected sex as they describe, because that's us—that's the future, our next generation."

He has added motivation for the trek to D.C.: the memory of departed friend, confidante, and fellow Housing Works activist Keith Cylar, whom, Chandler notes, "part of the campaign is definitely dedicated to."

The logistics are daunting for a person living with AIDS. Chandler and the other caravan marchers plan to walk for 21 days, 10 to 12 miles a day. At night, they'll stay in basements and cleared-out office spaces, on sleeping bags and air mattresses.

"I can't wait to go," he says. "I hope I have enough strength to complete it, but I feel great right now so I don't anticipate any problems. We're hoping to get huge media attention. Part of our mission is to get the word back out there: HIV is still around, people are still being infected; AIDS is still around, and it's still killing people."

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