This year marks the 15th anniversary of AIDS Survival Project. Our year-long celebration will be capped November 15 with an Anniversary Gala at downtown Atlanta's elegant Commerce Club (34 Broad Street) from 6: 00 to 8:00 p.m. The evening will feature fine food and drink, entertainment and awards presented to the following people for their commitment and accomplishments in the fight against HIV/AIDS:
The Gala will also be a chance for us all to look back to our beginning and recognize the values and achievements that have made this coalition of people affected by HIV what it is today. In 1986, a small group of People with AIDS (PWAs) in Atlanta first met to discuss the availability of programs geared for individuals already infected by HIV and living with AIDS. At that time, being infected meant that self-empowerment and maintained quality of life were, at best, limited, and that death was imminent. Most of these individuals were volunteers within the local AIDS service organization community, which was targeted primarily toward general education and providing basic available services. Demanding treatment research and advocating basic individual rights were not a focus for any of the existing organizations. They were organized primarily by health care professionals or development specialists and rarely included HIV-positive people in the major decision-making processes.
In the course of developing a new kind of AIDS organization over the next few years, this group of PWAs turned to the Denver Principles, the first assertion of the rights of people with HIV. First articulated in a meeting of PWAs and activists in Denver in 1983, these principles called on the public for active support in the struggle against discrimination, stigma and scapegoating. Of all the rights and responsibilities set forth in the Denver Principles, perhaps the greatest influence on the founders of AIDS Survival Project was the conviction that people with HIV must be their own representatives -- involved at every level of decision-making, serving on the boards of provider groups and having an equal voice in all matters concerning their lives and well-being. Out of the commitment to this ideal, a new coalition of people affected by HIV was born. Planning sessions were held, a charter drawn up and the new organization held its first board meeting in April 1988.
Today, that organization has grown to become a major force in the fight against AIDS and a valuable source of tools for living for thousands of people, not only in metro Atlanta but throughout the state. But the vision and dedication of the founders and the commitment to those grassroots principles continue to be the backbone of our organization. What distinguishes AIDS Survival Project from other AIDS service organizations is a structure and mission that goes beyond "client services." From the very beginning, we have placed a high priority on advocating for human rights and fair treatment for all people living with HIV/AIDS and providing the means for individuals to become their own advocates. By taking part in the advocacy work AIDS Survival Project does individually and in coalition with many other groups, people with AIDS have the means to become a powerful, united voice for equitable and rational public policy.
Our mission is built on the principle of self-empowerment, providing those affected by HIV with the information and support needed to make well-informed choices. "Give someone a fish," the saying goes, "and they will eat for a day. Teach someone to fish, they will eat for a lifetime." Through volunteerism, peer counseling, support groups and up-to-date comprehensive treatment education, thousands of individuals have been able to manage their care, take control of their lives and help others who face the same challenges.
This foundation of partnership was built into AIDS Survival Project 15 years ago as a coalition of HIV-positive individuals and their families, friends, caregivers and others concerned about this epidemic. Anyone who is HIV positive may elect members of our Board of Directors, 50% of whom must also be HIV positive. This unique structure ensures a passionate and committed response to the diverse and changing needs of people with HIV/AIDS because their voices are our voices. We also partner with other agencies and professionals across the spectrum of health care and social services who provide valuable information about all aspects of living with the disease and about accessing resources available throughout Atlanta and the state.
While it may seem an odd choice of words to mark 15 years of fighting a global pandemic that continues to spread and take so many lives, there is much to celebrate in AIDS Survival Project's anniversary. It is the countless individuals through the years who have made such a difference in the lives of others that we honor and celebrate. We hope you will be able to join us in making this an anniversary year and an unforgettable Gala event truly worthy of their achievements.