Thousands of people strolled through Central Park on Sunday for the 33rd annual AIDS Walk New York to spread awareness about a disease that affects more than 100,000 New Yorkers. AIDS Walk New York has grown into the largest AIDS fundraising event in the world.
"My mom in '91, she died of HIV in my arms," participant Gilbert Vargas said. "I feel like my mother's spirit is here, and I miss her. It's emotional."
The walk dates back to 1986 and has since raised more than $150 million. It benefits Gay Men's Health Crisis, also known as GMHC, as well as 40 other local HIV/AIDS organizations. Some walked simply to support the cause, while others walked proudly as HIV-positive New Yorkers.
"When I was first diagnosed and felt like I was going to die. It felt like there was no hope, no future," said Jhow Bram, who is HIV-positive. "But now, it's so much different, you know? There's so much hope."
Organizers say 1 in 5 people infected with HIV/AIDS are not aware of it, so they also promoted getting tested. In fact, organizers promoted that people could hop right off the route and get a free test on-site.
"Basically, it's just a swab of your mouth and it goes with the DNA," said Andrew Frazier, a senior health specialist at the David Geffen Center. "It's processed and you get your results in 20 minutes."
There was plenty of star power to promote that message: actor Andrew Rannells and actress Rosie Perez were among the dozens of celebrities to attend.
Although HIV/AIDS is no longer considered a death sentence, experts say it's important for people to know it's still an urgent problem.
"It's still in specific populations, such as young gay men of color, gay men of all ages, transgender women of color, and non-transgender women of color — that's where we're seeing the increases," said Krishna Stone, the director of community relations for GMHC.
And the thousands of people gathered Sunday won't stop advocating until there is a cure.