HIV Activist Electrifies Rhode Island’s Walk for Life
Hundreds of participants gathered on the south lawn of the Rhode Island State House Saturday for AIDS Project Rhode Island’s 28th annual Walk for Life, an event that raises money for the agency’s programs and services.
One of the event’s featured speakers was Anthony Maselli, an HIV test counselor at Aids Project Rhode Island. Maselli, who has been living with the disease for a year, gave an electrifying speech at the event, drawing applause and cheers from those gathered.
Maselli called his HIV diagnosis a "life altering experience."
"My name is Anthony," said Maselli. "I am not dying, helpless, sick, being punished, guilty, contagious or dirty. I’m just a person who happens to be living in recovery and happens to be HIV positive. I’ve decided to talk about it. I hope you will, too."
Maselli pushed for comprehensive sex education programs in schools and condemned religious intolerance toward people with HIV and AIDS.
"We need faith leaders who will stand on the side of dignity and truth," he said.
Maselli also promised that he would do what he can to end what he believed is society’s continued marginalization of people living with HIV.
"HIV is just the virus," Maselli said. "Stigma is the deadly disease."
According to APRI, an estimated 3,800 to 4,000 people in Rhode Island are living with HIV and AIDS.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that around 1.1 million adults and adolescents are living with HIV in the U.S., including those not yet diagnosed and those who have already progressed to AIDS.
Rhode Island HIV/AIDS physicians Charles Carpenter, M.D. and Philip Chan, M.D. were co-chairs of the Walk, which is the area’s largest event dedicated to raising awareness and funds for HIV prevention, testing and providing care for people living with HIV and AIDS.
Chan, an HIV specialist at Miriam Hospital, told the group of walkers he would like to see no new cases of HIV in the state.
"It’s preventable," Chan noted.
"No one needs to die of HIV now," said Carpenter, adding there were 100 new cases of HIV infection in Rhode Island in 2012.
Paul Fitzgerald, executive director of AIDS Care Ocean State, then led the crowd in a chant: "We have to get down to zero. Zero to death from AIDS. Zero to AIDS. Zero to AIDS. Zero to AIDS."
Providence Mayor Angel Tavares praised the work of organizations for their HIV prevention and education programs.
"You’re making a difference," Tavares said.
Leading the walkers over the 2.5-mile course were two veterans in the fight against HIV and AIDS: Guy Abelson and Roz Rustigian -- activists since the epidemic became an identified public health crisis in the 1980s.
The theme for this year’s event was "Prevention is the Solution!" Free and anonymous rapid HIV testing will be made available to reflect the event’s theme.
Cardi’s Furniture, The Miriam Hospital, NBC10 WJAR, Clear Channel Stations, and the City of Providence sponsored the Walk for Life.
AIDS Project Rhode Island offers a variety of programs including case management, mental health and substance abuse treatment and safety net services, such as emergency rental and utility payments. The organization also offers a meal site and a drop-in center.
AIDS Project Rhode Island is located at 404 Wickenden St., Providence.
For more information, go to www.aidsprojectri.org, or call 401-831-5522.