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AID Atlanta Prevention Programs Manager Working to Stop Epidemic in Atlanta | Community Spirit

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AID Atlanta Prevention Programs Manager Working to Stop Epidemic in Atlanta

Having lived with HIV for 25 years and working as prevention programs manager at AID Atlanta, Craig Washington has experienced firsthand the challenges of changing behaviors. As a gay African-American male, one of the groups at highest risk for infection, Washington knows all too well that people have to been shown and helped, not just told to be safe.

He first realized he had HIV in 1985, when a friend had pointed out his swollen glands as a symptom for “it” – not even calling the disease by name. At first he was terrified, but in his quest for information, he heard a voice tell him that he was going to make it. What touched him the most was the support from his female friends when he told them he knew he was HIV positive. He also was later encouraged by his partner, Lenny, to get tested and seek the best doctors for treatment.

Since then, he’s made the effort to live a healthy life and as an advocate for AIDS prevention. That’s why he’s been chosen as a spokesperson for the 20th annual AIDS Walk Atlanta and 5K Run, the largest and most visible fundraising event for AIDS in the Southeast.

“It means a great deal and it’s an honor to be one of the Walk’s spokespeople, as I am part of a lineage of black gay men – many of whom are no longer here,” he said. “They were doing this for years before I got involved and I carry them, and the work they’ve done with me. I think that anyone can be a spokesperson by daring to show compassion, challenge bigotry and work toward a more just and loving society.”

Now in its 20th year, AIDS Walk Atlanta & 5K Run, which takes place Sun., Oct. 17, in Piedmont Park, continues to make it possible for AID Atlanta, producers of the Walk, and nine other AIDS service organizations to continue the work to stop the spread of HIV and optimize the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS. With Georgia's current rank of 9th in the nation for new HIV infections and the now epidemic numbers of people living with the disease in downtown Atlanta, it is more important than ever for Atlantans to walk and take an active role in the health of their community.

“The most important thing I can tell young people is that you have to take responsibility for your health and make decisions wisely – because they have long lasting effects on your life,” said Washington. “Also, we are all interconnected, and as such, we also have a responsibility to keep the communities we live in healthy and thriving.”

While we are testing more people and are more knowledgeable about the disease overall, HIV is still prevalent. Georgia ranks 8th in the nation for HIV cases.

“Knowledge isn’t the only factor. We have to address factors like housing, income, social stigma and relationships,” he said. “Behaviors are all connected to root causes and we need to do a better job addressing those factors. It is so important to get people tested and then link them to care and support programs or services, especially in high risk populations. We have the potential to turn this thing around and achieve the goal to reduce HIV infections and help improve the quality of people’s lives.”

For more information or to register for this year’s Walk, visit www.aidswalkatlanta.com or call (404) 876-9255 (WALK). Can't walk, but still want to participate? Become a virtual walker by donating online.