Jump! Jump—for my love! When I saw on social media that The Pointer Sisters performed at AIDS Walk New York last month, I was automatically transported back to the early eighties. The Grammy Award-winning singing group has changed some of its members over the years (though keeping it a family affair); however, the family’s commitment to supporting those in need has remained steadfast. And the songs remain the same—they performed the most upbeat ones [including “Jump (For My Love)”] at the post-Walk show, helping to celebrate the achievements of participants, volunteers, and staff. As we go to press, AIDS Walk New York has raised $4.4 million for vital services.
At any other concert, an act like The Pointer Sisters would elicit ’80s’ nostalgia in all of its pink-neon, high-hair exuberance. For me and other long-term suvivors, that exuberance is tempered with loss. Joy is anchored by agony. Nostalgia is remixed with stranger things, for we may as well have been living in an upside-down reality where the scariest monster was not AIDS but rather a Frankenstein created out of a lack of compassion, government inaction, and stigmatizing dismissals of the most vulnerable in society.
In the early 1980s, you did not need to be in the thick of the crisis to realize its enormity. If not happening to yourself, everything that was happening was happening to people like you, your loved ones, your community, whether you lived in Burlington, Vermont, or Phoenix, Arizona. Even outside of the epicenters of the epidemic, we still heard the loud rumblings, nebulous yet ominous as any thunder clouds. We still heard the screams that would pierce through the wall of American apathy, carried outward in a magazine article, a letter from a friend, a messenger who ran all the way from New York City. As the 1980s progressed, more and more of us joined the fight.
As we persisted as well as we could through the 1990s, we found new allies. Our June cover story subject, Wilson Cruz, who was featured in A&U’s June/July 1995’s issue, was only twenty-one yet already active in the fight to support the needs of individuals living with HIV/AIDS or at risk for acquiring HIV, as one of the hosts of an AIDS Project Los Angeles Dance-a-thon (and, before that, a stalwart participant for five to six years) and working with Advocates For Youth’s street outreach campaign for testing. Back then, he told interviewer Glenn Gaylord, “I hope that I’m putting a face to the young people out there who are at risk right now…people we could be losing. We’re at a point now where we are losing a whole other generation. Hopefully, when people look at me, they will see a person they could lose if we don’t educate our youth.”
Twenty-three years later, Wilson still has faith in the power of youth to make a difference. About the new wave of gun control advocates, he shares with A&U Senior Editor Dann Dulin: “Some people say, ‘Oh, they’re just kids.’ But it’s kids who change the world! It was youth who helped to end the Vietnam War, it was youth who rose up for LGBT rights, it was youth who fought to give women a voice about abortion, and it’s youth who are going to resolve this gun issue.”
Youth activism should be championed, but I don’t want to forget long-time jump-starters like Wilson Cruz. Many in this month’s issue have dedicated themselves over decades to HIV advocacy, volunteering and/or fundraising—artists like Dan Nicoletta and Luna Luis Ortiz, organizations like The Billys, performers like Ron B., and HIV workers like Dawn Averitt and Tori Cooper. And new voices, like Leo Herrera of The Fathers Project, understand the momentum of the past to secure a better future. Staying involved with AIDS keeps the funding going and the progress to a cure in focus! Jump in!
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.