By Megan Wadding, October 2017 Issue.

Tucson’s first AIDSWALK, which was a memorial march that invited the community to come together to support and remember those affected by HIV/AIDS, took place in 1989.

In the years since, the event has raised millions of dollars – more than $1.6 million since 2003 alone. These funds, according to Travis Craddock, director of development for the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF), support critical and life-saving services for people living with, affected by, or at-risk for HIV/AIDS, and provide important prevention education, outreach and intervention.

This year marks the 29th anniversary of AIDSWALK Tucson, as part of which SAAF will provide free HIV testing throughout the entire weekend for the second year in a row.

Remembering their NAMES

A key element of each year’s AIDSWALK is the opportunity for community members to come together and remember those lost to HIV/AIDS.

According to Craddock, this includes bringing in and displaying panels from The NAMES Project Foundation’s AIDS Memorial Quilt. After the walk, attendees are encouraged to attend the quilt’s ceremonial unfolding.

“Every year, AIDSWALK sponsors and volunteers take part in the Daybreak Quilt Opening Ceremony,” Craddock said. “[It] is the opportunity for people to come together and remember those lost to HIV/AIDS. We do this in various ways, including bringing in and displaying panels from the quilt [at the walk].”

According to, the quilt comprises more than 48,000 colorful panels, each memorializing an individual whose life was lost to AIDS.

“It is a poignant memorial and the largest ongoing community arts project in the world,” he explained.

Support, Awareness and Prevention

According to Craddock, the ongoing goal of AIDSWALK Tucson is to generate support, awareness and funds for preventative measures.

“AIDSWALK is a deeply personal event, but it is also a community-centered event, where the community comes together to show support for those affected by or at-risk for HIV/AIDS,” Craddock said. “It is important for us to come together and remember those we lost to HIV/AIDS and to remind those living with HIV/AIDS that they have support from our community and from SAAF, and [also] to recognize that HIV/AIDS continues to affect our community.”

All proceeds from AIDSWALK Tucson, Craddock explained, will benefit the programs and services SAAF offers to those living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS as well as the important prevention education, outreach and intervention the nonprofit organization provides.

“We are no longer fundraising just to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, but to provide services and support to truly improve the quality of life for someone with a positive status and also to create awareness that we are all within reach of the disease if we are unaware of the correct preventative measures,” he said.

Team Tucson

Once again, AIDSWALK will take place in collaboration with Tucson Meet Yourself (TMY), the Southern Arizona town’s annual folk life festival.

“The joint production between AIDSWALK and Tucson Meet Yourself is one of the smartest collaborations in Tucson,” said Maribel Alvarez, TMY program director. “ … the ritual unfolding of the AIDS quilt fits perfectly with TMY’s focus on tradition and folklife, and has become an important component of the acknowledgement of diversity in our community as a strength instead of something to fear,”

For Craddock, the energy that the participants bring to the weekend of events is his favorite part.

“So many people play a role in making AIDSWALK successful, and I love seeing the community come together in solidarity to end the stigma for people living with HIV/AIDS,” Craddock said.

A turnout similar to last year’s event is expected, with an estimated 450 registered walkers in total, including 30 pets.

“Whether you sign up as a walker or as a volunteer, you will not want to miss AIDSWALK,” he said. “It is such a colorful, moving event and really shows the spirit of the Tucson community.”

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