Today is World AIDS Day, first observed in 1988, dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic and mourning those who have died of the disease. Today is also the anniversary of Rosa Parks' arrest for her act of defiance when she refused to obey the bus driver's order that she give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger. The disease of prejudice was faced head-on by Miss Parks. She refused to surrender and as a result, the United States Congress called her "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement." People had been dying of AIDS, but the government wasn't paying any attention. In fact, many were ignoring this huge health crisis because in the US it was largely gay man and drug users who were effected. James Bunn and Thomas Netter at the World Health Organization didn't surrender, but instead created World AIDS Day.
The heroes that I write about here and the unsung heroes, of which there are many, are people who stand up for what is right and make a difference. Sometimes it looks pretty bleak. Sometimes it is so tempting to turn around and walk the other direction. Life is full of difficult moments though and we need to stand up to them and do what needs to be done. Do not surrender though because when you do, you most certainly end up losing.
Racial prejudice is still with us of course and so is AIDS. We've come a long way. We have made a lot of progress. Most people at least know what is right and just these days, even if they do the opposite. On this December 1st though I would like you to take a few minutes to think about Rosa Parks and the difference she made. Although she was honored many years later, the immediate result wasn't good for her. Not only did she go to jail, but she also lost her job. Many people with AIDS have lost their jobs too. While medical progress has reduced the death sentences we used to see, we still see stigma attached to the disease, especially in rural areas. Yet, it is necessary to keep going forward and to not surrender.
Support equal rights campaigns. Support AIDS research and patient care. Talk openly about our past and look forward to a brighter future. Do not surrender.