For the people who paraded through Frederiksted Thursday night and conducted a candlelight vigil, World AIDS day is about more than getting out and walking one day a year.
"It’s really a ritual,” said Dr. Cora Christian of the Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers.
Christian and Jason Henry, program coordinator for Frederiksted Health Care, gave a long list of sobering statistics and milestones on the timeline of AIDS, but for most of the roughly 100 people who took part, it was about an individual, or two or three friends, who had succumbed to the disease or were living with HIV.
With the St. Croix Central High School Marching Caribs pounding out the rhythm, walkers propelled down the street; the growing crowd marched down from the Frederiksted Post Office. They gathered at the foot of the clock tower in Buddhoe Park where candles were lit representing individuals who had died or have the virus.
Christian said that being a member of a community carried responsibilities. "As long as you are with us and a part of us, you do need to be responsible," she said.
Christian pointed out that the black community has been hit harder than other demographics. African Americans make up 14 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 44 percent of the HIV cases in the country. Black women are 15 times more likely to contract the virus than white women, Christian added.
Sandra Phaire of VICARE said the event wasn’t about the losses, but the lives.
"We’re here to celebrate the lives of those who live with HIV and AIDS, and to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on," she said.
The theme of this year’s observance, and the goal for the year, Christian said, is zero. Zero new infections in the coming year and zero deaths among those already infected.
Gains have been made in the fight against AIDS, Henry pointed out, with many people who are HIV positive living more than two decades. Science and research continues to find a cure.
Adrian Edwards, who read a poem he had written for the occasion, noted that one population group had shown that education can work. Intravenous drug users, who spread the virus by sharing needles, had at one time been affected as much as any group. Those numbers have plummeted, Edwards said.
"They learned," he said. "We’re seeing a big impact from the education programs."
Debbieann Nanton-Smith, whose mother Katherine Nanton died of AIDS-related illness last summer, read a list of community members who have died. Participants came forward and moved the candles from the north side of the clock tower’s base, facing the park, to the south side, facing the sea.
Then everyone walked out along the cruise ship pier. At the end of the pier, with the flickering candles still visible on the clock tower base, they threw handfuls of rose petals into the water as a final reminder.
World AIDS Day has been celebrated around the globe since 1988. A ceremony has been held on St. Croix for 18 years now, Phaire said, in Frederiksted for the last four years.