Tuesday, October 25, 2005

C2EA American Heritage Caravan

Caravan update : 5

By Vaughn Frick
American Heritage caravan rider

October 25, 2005
Casper, Wyoming to Rapid City South Dakota.

This morning I awoke nestled next to my boyfriend on a floor of a church along with my fellow caravan riders. The local media gave us very good coverage, both in the local newspaper and the evening news. We were fed a full breakfast prepared for us by an amazing group of church women who got up early to see us off. We all feel such gratitude for our reception here, and special thanks go to Pastor Charlene Hinkley and Pamela Reamer Williams of the Wyoming AIDS project.
The weather here this season we've been told has been warmer and milder than usual,showcasing the natural beauty of this wide and open land of such diverse range and topography.
Not long after crossing the border into South Dakota we stopped at a small rurally colorful diner called the "Fresh Stop" for a quick lunch, and encountered our first incident of open hostility. Portland caravan rider Paul who is African American and needs a walker due to a broken hip went to use the restroom, where two local yokels told him " There are three clan members here, and only two of you, and you better watch your back." Chris, our other African-American rider, returned to the bus fearing a conflict. We talked with the owner, and were assured that those who threatened us would be banned from that establishment. Back on the bus this was an opportunity to discuss how to handle threats and violence as we get closer to the home town of Fred Phelps, famous for disrupting funerals of those who died from AIDS by yelling through bullhorns "God hates queers" and far more ugly epitaphs. One of our caravan riders experienced Fred Phelps and his congregation disrupt the funeral of his partner when he passed in 1989. Some wounds cut so deep that we never are over them, so I held my friend as he wept as the grief from this trauma washed over him again. He told me how the Reverend Phelps tried to steal the memories of his beloved partner who's passing is still so close to the surface so many years later.
We stopped briefly to view the giant Crazy Horse sculpture that's still under construction after over 50 years of work, a massive project carved into a whole hill visible for miles. We also paid a brief stop at Mt. Rushmore, that strange cultural icon with nearly biblical overtones.
Upon arrival in Rapid City we quickly set up in the hotels arranged here by our hosts, then left for a dinner and informal meeting with local people in a city park.This event was hosted by Positive Approach, the local source for support, re feral, information, assistance, and hospice training for the needs of the local HIV/AIDS community. There are an estimated 400 people living with HIV/AIDS in South Dakota, roughly a hundred live here in Rapid City.
I spoke with Marnee Morris, HIV positive now 17 years, struggling back from a severe stroke. Marnee showed up before today's event began to wash the picnic tables. She had been a ballerina, a soloist for the New York city Ballet company and had performed this art worldwide that she had dreamed of since a child. Today she still experiences those little cuts of discrimination that can bleed one to death such as being told that she should eat off of paper plates.
Marnee gets the medications that she needs to live through Rapid City Community health, one of the many small, rural agencies that will go under if the Ryan White Care act does not get reauthorized, as is the wish of the Bush administration.
Another local activist Tom told me that today he believes finally ending AIDS is a war that we can win, a sentiment he says that he would not have believed last year.

For more information about this caravan, the Campaign To End AIDS, and what you can do to help win this war, log onto:

C2EA American Heritage Caravan

American Heritage caravan update: 4

By Vaughn Frick
American Heritage caravan rider

October 24, 2005
Laramie to Cheyenne to Casper Wyoming

Last night all 13 of our caravan riders slept upon sleeping pads and air mattresses in one large room donated to us by the University apartments community center across the street from the University of Wyoming. Before dawn I walked the campus grounds under the immense star-shot sky, the ground was covered in twinkling ice crystals mirroring the lights of the universe far above. A sky as wide as this land in middle America that our caravan is transversing on our journey to Washington D.C. Wyoming is still a frontier state today, where coal and bone turned to stone are dug out of the hills and bedrock eroded by Millenia.
We ate breakfast in the student cafeteria and showered in the gym before leaving on our next stop at Cheyenne. We thank the generosity of John Wiggins and the Albany county AIDS project for donating the funds for our meals while we stayed in Laramie, and to Travis who as host met all of our needs, and who also looks very lovely dressed in his "I got candy" t-shirt.
We arrived in Cheyenne at their local CBS affiliate KGWN newschanel 5 where we were interviewed for the evening news about who we are and our message of hope and life that we are taking to Washington, D.C.
This was a very bittersweet stop for us, as we had planned on several events here organized by a tireless volunteer for this caravan named Jeff Palmer who had suddenly stopped communicating with us days before we set off from Portland. Jeff was one of the founders of an AIDS advocacy group called Positive for Positive,and in the end even though his illness was severe,he would spend hours on the phone organizing this caravan and action, inspiring many with his passion to make the Campaign To End AIDS a reality.
A few days ago we finally learned that Jeff had died.
Since he was the life for this caravan stop in Cheyenne, so also were the events here snuffed out prematurely. As we were filmed for the evening news we held hands and circled there in Jeff's town that he loved and remembered him. People are dieing needlessly from AIDS again, new people are still getting infected with the HIV virus. Tragically both of these grim statistics are so easily preventable by what we already know works.
Our final stop for today was at Casper where we were greeted by members of a local church shared by two denominations, the First Congregational Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalists. A banner in their chapel reads: "We care more about rights than rites,"and this church has worked much to bring diversity and tolerance to the Faith based community of Casper.
A pizza and pinata party, press conference, and candlelight memorial were organized here, all put together by a 17 year old 11th grade student named Caitlyn Metcalf. Caitlyn is the leader for the Youth Empowerment Council of Casper, and worked to see this event happen for the past two months, pulling together Wyoming AIDS project, the Matthew Shepard Foundation,and all the dedicated local people who came to this event. Last summer she attended a training by the Wyoming AIDS project, and was shocked by the prior misinformation she had been told about HIV. Before this she had never known anyone who had been infected by HIV. Based on her belief that she needed to do what was right, Caitlyn has become one of the leading AIDS activists for this whole area.
American Heritage caravan rider Levi Ferns spoke to the media about his personal experiences living with HIV. In his own words " My Late husband Charles Morton Krayerdied of AIDS on June 5, 2005. His death was hastened due to a lack of access to adequate health care and medications. In 1990 Congress established the Ryan White Care Act to provide funding for vital services including health care. But now in 2005, the Care Act remains depleted in funds. People are on waiting lists for vital medications in several states. There is an across-the-board squeeze on vital services. Let's demand that Congress and Mike Enzi reauthorize and fully fund the Ryan White Care Act. Let's give it the 2.5 billion dollars it needs.
For the candlelight vigil, 43 people circled in the dusk in front of the church, lighting each candle in a circle as each participant remembered a friend or family member lost to AIDS, or sharing a hope. One young boy said "I light this candle in hope that a cure is found."
Wyoming. It's people proud of their land and community, a people very kind and generous to us. I met many wonderful individuals here who had left then moved back because in their hearts they love this place. A people dedicated to prevent another Matthew Shepard from dieing beaten and bloodied tied to a fence alone on a cold northern night.
At around 7:30 the organizer for tonight's events had to go home to finish her homework for school tomorrow.

For more information on how you can help with HIV/AIDS in Wyoming, please contact Pamela Reamer Williams at the Wyoming AIDS Project: wyaidsproj@wyoming.com

To learn more about the Campaign To End AIDS and the American Heritage caravan, please log onto www.c2ea.org

Paving The Way

Hi I want to say h

Hi   I want to say hello to my family, friends, my sponsors Yogi Pharmacy, Brothers Communications from Wilmington Delaware. Today is the eleventh day and I am going to the end. I am doing well and have lots of energy. I walk for a few hours and then I rest, until the next time. I love everybody. Juan Santos (The Condom Man)

Paving The Way

High School Friend Supports Walk

I received the following email with a check of support from a high school friend who lives in Leawood, KS – just outside of Kansas City.


Hello Marie,

 Your name is certainly one from a long time ago as is mine to you. I was very impressed at what you are doing and would like to help. I am sending you a check by mail to help this cause.


Thank you for the work you are doing. I volunteer at a home for men with AIDS bringing them meals and company and conversation. I know how much your work is needed.”

-Denise Diamond Pakula

Marie S. Nahikian



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Paving The Way

Marie is Walking to DC

Dear Family - Thank you for your wonderful support - 7 days ago I
walked thru the Lincoln Tunnel + today the Campaign to End Aids arrived
in Phila. I have over $3000 in sponsorship.
We've walked down rural roads with no shoulders - neighborhoods of
small houses, mansions + shacks.
We've been to Weewakhen, Jersey City, Elizabeth, HOBOKEN, Rahway, New
Brunswick, Princeton, Metuchen, Trenton + now Phila - why am I walking
to Washington DC?
*For the friends + family we have loved + lost
*for the 8,500 people who die each day
*to insure that our children + grandchildren can live long + healthy
lives but are never faced with not being able to afford medication to
keep them alive
*for the young blond woman' a clerk in the WaWa deli store in bensalem
PA who began crying when she asked why we were walking + told me about
her brother who is Hiv+ is dying simply because he can not pay for his
*for the mothers infected by spouses who did not know or did not tell
them they had aids + lost a child
*for those who cannot control their addictions + share dirty needles
*to oppose "faith-based" organizations who use our tax dollars to oppose
scientifically proven prevention such as clean needle exchanges or safe
sex practices but spend millions on "moral" alternatives