Making the End of AIDS a Reality


by David Waggoner


Simply put, “AIDS ain’t over…yet.” But there has been enough good news lately, that I’d like to offer kudos to the hundreds of thousands of AIDS activists, patient advocates, HIV medical professionals, pharmaceutical scientists, government politicians, and employees of the thousands of frontline NGOs who are making the future end of AIDS a real possibility.

In a world full of relentless risk (from nuclear conflict on the Korean Peninsula to mass starvation in Yemen), with stressful images of the world coming across our smart phones, computers, tablets, and every other conceivable electronic device, even my grandchildren are worried about a world come undone; the world has always been a dangerous place, I tell them. But recently Mother Nature has been uniting us all in such unique ways.

For my grandchildren know that the world is also a place of amazing things, like the recent solar eclipse. One of the best viewing places of this once in a lifetime event was St. Joseph, Missouri, my birthplace. It was featured on the Weather Channel as one of the top ten viewing places in the continental U.S. to “see” the eclipse. An hour before the event I called some of my cousins in the town most famous for the Pony Express and Jesse James; they had caught some of the panic being documented on every network and social media site. After all, St. Joe had tripled in size overnight. Part-time astronomers and science geeks had flocked to the upper northwest Missouri town to experience a moment in history that they could tell future generations about.

The point of all this is that miraculous sights don’t happen every day. But like the moonshot, and the eradication of polio on the planet, the AIDS challenge is just that: an opportunity for people from all walks of life to take the lead and make an end of AIDS a reality. When our leaders are barely talking to each other in the halls of Congress, when hatred gathers in Charlottesville but is quickly stamped out in Boston, it makes me, as an American living with HIV, realize that not everyone wants to hate and stigmatize those of us who want to thrive in spite of our differences. In watching the pictures of the defenders of freedom on the Boston Common, there was a strength in the numbers that came out on that sunny New England day. The power of social media was there in the call-out. Get your neighbors, your loved ones, your parents and children to blockade the brutal few who think that their hatred will become contagious. Not a chance. Boston Strong, for sure.

One death—Heather Heyer’s—during the obscene march of the so-called alt-right, only goes to show how powerful a cause can become if we all support one another. Similarly, in American history all good causes start with an individual responding to a universal need to change. AIDS activism and breast cancer awareness campaigns, to name just two well-known medical crises, have brought about tremendous changes to the medical establishment. And for the common good.

This month’s cover story subject, Eric Leonardos, uses his expertise in hair and makeup toward the common good, having launched an initiative called Beauty Allies that encourages salon-based philanthropy. He recently helped give women living with HIV/AIDS makeovers. He told A&U’s Larry Buhl: “Some were getting back into the workforce. Some experienced a lot of trauma. They shared their stories with me and I listened. What I got back was the experience of watching these women see their outsides begin to match their beautiful insides.” In this issue, we spotlight other individuals who have made a difference: Paul Thorn, who offers advice about emotional literacy when living with challenges like HIV; Josh Robbins, who keeps us up-to-date about HIV with his vlogging; and Carol Marsh, who started a residence for homeless women living with HIV/AIDS that continues to this day.

And while these individuals have modeled compassionate leadership, none of them would say we should seek a savior to solve problems for us. Their success lies in making all of us see that something like the fight against AIDS is stronger as a group effort. Let’s erect a statue to honor that!

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.