Innovation, Impact and Inspiration

November 4, 2011
From left -- Arick Buckles, of Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy; Lora Branch, of Gilead Sciences, Inc.; AFC President/CEO David Ernesto Munar; and Keith Elliott, of Dance for Life. -- AFC Photo-Ed Negron

His voice crackled with emotion as he told their stories.

There was the North Lawndale man who refused to seek care for HIV because his family would not understand, saying instead that he would entrust his health to God; an Englewood woman whose father renounced her for being HIV positive; and the Austin man who shied away from services because “he didn’t want anyone to know his business.”

The Austin man died in April at age 36.

“Friends, stories like this are more common than we hear,” said Arick Buckles, an advocate for the Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy.

Buckles was one of three awards recipients at last night’s annual meeting for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC). About 200 people – a mix of AFC staff, board members and community partners -- attended the event at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center to celebrate the past year’s accomplishments, take stock of the immense challenges that lie ahead and to honor the awardees.

Buckles received the Innovation Award for spearheading an anti-stigma T-shirt campaign that brought hundreds of people to Springfield wearing bright red shirts that said “HIV Positive.” Also receiving awards were Keith Elliott, of Dance for Life, who received the Inspiration Award, and Gilead Sciences, Inc., which was given the Impact Award.

“Dance for Life is only an event, folks, it’s not brain surgery,” said Elliott, upon receiving his award. “But hopefully it will continue to help us open our hearts and to believe that something beautiful and powerful can always happen in our lives.”

Elliott co-founded Dance for Life, an annual dance performance that raises money for HIV/AIDS prevention and care. Since its premiere in 1991, the performance has raised over $4 million, according to the Dance for Life website.

The Impact Award went to Gilead Science, Inc., which has provided funding for a new AFC program called the Bridge Project, which provides HIV testing at non-traditional sites — more specifically, Department of Human Services offices — in eight communities on Chicago’s South Side.

So far, more than 3,000 people have been tested for HIV through the Bridge Project, said Cynthia Tucker, AFC’s Director of Prevention and Community Partnerships. The partners — the groups actually coordinating and conducting the testing — are the Brother’s Health Collective, Beyond Care and M.A.D.E.

AFC’s President/CEO David Ernesto Munar outlined the successes of 2011 and the looming challenges in his remarks. AFC’s accomplishments ranged widely, he said — from researching treatment and prevention on other continents to successfully advocating for important state legislation encouraging people to seek immediate help in the event of a drug overdose.

On the challenge side, Munar pointed out the difficulty of funding the 125 community partners when government funding was delayed to AFC. At any given time, AFC is owed $1.5 million in government funding, he said, with lengthy delays coming from the city and the state.

“In the year ahead, we will more aggressively advocate with government officials to sustain the vital service they entrust us to deliver,” Munar said.

Curtis Reed -- AFC Photo-Ed Negron

Curtis Reed, the recently-elected chairman of AFC’s board of directors, also acknowledged the hard work yet to be done in the face of stalled funding and persistent stigma. Reed, a banker by trade, joined the AFC board 11 years ago.

AFC and its partners are up to the task, he said.

“It’s been a year with many challenges,” Reed said. “But, year in and year out, we collectively provide services for what is needed In Chicago.”

To view more of Ed Negron's pics from the Annual Meeting, check out the Flickr album.

AFC staff writer Gregory Trotter can be reached at

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