Thursday, November 03, 2005

C2EA American Heritage Caravan

American Heritage Caravan update # 13

By Vaughn Frick
American Heritage Caravan rider.

November 2, 2005
Louisville, Kentucky to Charleston, West Virginia.

On the surface driving through the hills of Kentucky, this part of the country is a deceptively beautiful, clothed in fall finery of fire-red trees, yellows and oranges befitting of a raver's fashion. Crosses dot the highway medians,appear at regular intervals cresting on hillsides,empty, ready for new bodies to be nailed upon them. Where before on this journey we viewed antelope and cows, now we are in horse country.
We arrived into Louisville at night, winding through a sleek business district; old world churches nestled next to shiny new temples of commerce.
You do not have to go far here to find the ghetto.As we rode through Louisville's projects we witnessed open drug dealing,traveling through blighted neighborhoods bearing buildings hollowed out as skulls.
Where we were to spend the night was at an old Catholic Parrish that the church abandoned, today known as the House of Ruth. The House of Ruth is an association of persons caring for families and individuals affected by HIV and AIDS. They provide advocacy and support for their physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. From their brochure: "HIV/AIDS has the ability to shatter- not only the lives of individuals, but also their families. And that has an effect on the entire community. Although there is not a cure to-date,there have been great medical strides made in managing this disease. However, there remains a side to this illness that only those who are close to it can see- the emotional repercussions. Many HIV/AIDS infected/affected individuals often feel lonely, isolated, desperate and hopeless. House of Ruth can help alleviate these feelings by mending shattered lives.
House of Ruth through its comprehensive program, believes that treatment of HIV/AIDS is not only found in a doctor's office, but is also found in the community. House of Ruth also believes that in order to treat an infected individual, it must start by treating the entire family."
This is the safety net for the Louisville HIV/AIDS community,and it is getting torn to pieces as funding sources close and dry up. We were to sleep in the building gymnasium,which was unsuitable for our more frail caravan riders, as numerous bullet holes in the window and gaps in the ceiling made the space unheatable in the low 30 degree weather. A cascade of creeper vines had forced their entry into the building through gaps in the exterior. We slept in a heat able dining hall next door upon a concrete floor with air mattresses. Halloween decorations were strewn about leftover from a children's Halloween party; flaming paper skulls and glow-in-the-dark plastic skeletons, motion-activated ghosts that giggled and rattled little chains when their mechanisms sensed your approach. Disposable horror-holiday gew-gaws manufactured overseas probably by children much less fortunate.
Two of our caravan riders who had boarded the bus in Chicago had to be flown back, as the rough conditions in the past days sent their health situations spiraling downward to where they had to be hospitalized. The number of riders on this American Heritage Caravan are 26.
Organizing our stay here was an amazing one man show of an activist named Darrell Robinson. About seven years back he organized the first HIV/AIDS resource agencies in the state of Kentucky, a project he's fought to grow as the caseloads increase statewide,as denial and drug addiction throw more people into a system that is having it's basic funding cut and slashed. Kentucky only has started collecting statistics for those who are pre-AIDS but HIV positive this past year, they won't be able to release these statistics till about 2008.
Out of this chaos Darrell made sure we were well fed for both dinner and breakfast by securing the funds to hire a caterer. Fried chicken, meat-loaf, mashed potatoes, and corn for dinner, eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy for breakfast.
What is it like living with AIDS/HIV in Kentucky? I asked Darrell,who is the Education Director for the Louisville AIDS Resource Center :
"As we go into our third decade of HIV/AIDS, though the medications may be new and improved, the stigma, the lack of education and the dis concern still lingers. The media keeps referring to HIV/AIDS as a controllable illness and that the need for concern is no longer there. In it self this is such a farce. There are at this time over 1.5 million people in the United States that are HIV/AIDS diagnosed. 40,000 newly diagnosed cases a year, 8,500 deaths a day world wide. Yet the State of Kentucky keeps wearing the blinders that belong on thoroughbreds during a race and sees nothing. They don't think HIV is in their community and their children are not at risk. Kentucky is second only to West Virginia for the most poorly formulated drug assistance program in the nation. Until 3 months ago Kentucky had a waiting list for over 300 people to even receive assistance with their medications, not to mention Housing,medical treatment, clothing, food and transportation. The state reports cumulative cases of AIDS through 2004 at 4,119 people. Yet we know that in Louisville their are over 100 clients at the WINGS clinic being served and the other seven HIV doctors are so full it is at least a six month wait to even See doctor for the first time. You do the math. Keep the Promise to End AIDS and join the Caravan to end AIDS today."
We could not secure the permits needed for a public event, the local media totally ignored our phone calls,
so we left Kentucky for our next scheduled stop in Charleston, West Virginia.
The West Virginia hills reminded me of back-home in Oregon, it has been about two weeks since our caravan rolled out of the HIV Day Center there.
We Arrived at the State Capitol Charleston and were received and fed by our hosts at the Asbury United Methodist Church. An interfaith service of prayer and healing open to the local community was held after dinner, over 50 people attended, as did reporters from two television stations.Readings from this service included those from the Baghavad Gita: " My devotee is compassionate towards all beings, bearing ill will toward none. You must look with an equal eye upon everyone, working for the good of all."
Also from the Torah "The strangers who live with you shall be to you like citizens, and you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt..."
After this service the whole group marched bearing candles two blocks away to a AIDS living memorial garden planted on a wedge of land at a busy intersection in the light of the Capitol building's gilded wedding-cake styled dome. We all shared the names and stories of our departed friends and family.
Some names were inscribed on the bricks on the garden walkway. Many bricks were yet to be inscribed as the death toll will surely rise in this rural corner of America. This was another memorial service out of many where it was left to the church to remember the dead of their community. No one showed up from any of the State HIV/AIDS agencies, so I was unable to gather statistics in another small town where an invisible tsunami of death drew near.
We did score two small sound-bites on the evening news.

Paving The Way

Soul of the South Day 17

We went to Columbia S. Carolina yesterday and I finally met Karen Bates.  It's great seeing people's faces from the conference calls.  She had an awesome event at the state capital.  There were several speakers, preachers, and live music.  Someone sang a beautiful song on stage.  We drove to Durham (is that spelled right?)after and picked up the 3 ladies from San Antonio from the airport.  Then we went and got 3 hotel rooms at the holiday inn.  We stayed there last night, and i did homework, caught up on e-mails, and chilled.  Had a great night sleep, although someone from another caravan (not mentioning any names Casey) called me at 4 in the morning.  It's alright though.  Today we went to Durham's event.  It was awesome.  A church auditorium filled with people.  They had a drawing for donations, lots of speakers, networking, and a dance team.  DC tomorrow!!!  I can hardly hold in my excitement!!! 

P.S.  I'm speaking at the opening ceremony, and I'm nervous.



Chris Rothermel

Host Committee Organizer: Soul of the South, Houston
Campaign to End AIDS