When I realized that AIDS Walk Colorado was only a few days away, I naturally began to panic. I am whole heartedly committed to fundraising for charitable events, even when I fail to raise funds for myself. It probably appeases urban hippie liberal guilt. However, this fundraiser -my most regular one- nearly slipped right past me.
I scrambled to figure out a clever pitch so I could convince friends to give me a few hundred bucks. I needed at least one hundred just so I could get the damn AIDS Walk T-shirt. I called it “$300 In 3 Days.” And because I am fortunate to know some wildly wonderful people, we managed to raise together nearly $400 in less than two days. Their generosity instantly calmed my nerves, if not giving me a double dose of the warm fuzzies.
Nevertheless, something else had me nervous. What would the AIDS Walk be like this year? Last year, there had been a dramatic drop in participation. Apparently it had been on the decline ever since 2015, but last year it was BAD. It was as if they had Martin Shkreli be the guest emcee or something. By the way, if that name doesn’t ring a bell, he was the guy who bought out Daraprim, a medication used in some HIV/AIDS treatments, and raised the price 5,000%.
After last year’s Walk, articles popped up saying that it could be its last. The organizers were thinking of turning next years’ into a smaller “memorial event.” This idea made me slightly cringe. It didn’t make any sense. This disease rapidly continues to gain so much hope. So now, as a solution, they wanted to make the event even MORE somber? I didn’t want this to happen.
So when we made our way through to the park and over to the event, I felt relief when I saw that nothing had changed. Sure, everything had gotten a little smaller, but more or less it was basically the same - the same check-in tables, the same stage with the same big banner, the same little makeshift store with the same additional shirts for sale (aside from the hundred dollar fundraiser one), and the same vendor booths with the same free shwag.
Then something occurred to me: maybe this was the problem. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Although I think this phrase mostly refers to the mind-bludgering politics in this country, perhaps the same could be true for a major fundraiser on the decline.
As my partner and I made our way to the check-in table, we stopped to talk to a friendly acquaintance. He expressed his disappointment in this year’s even lower turn out. I agreed and offered up my opinion that something needed to change.
“Well, I don’t see YOU stepping up to help,” he said in a not-so-friendly way.
I immediately wanted to slap him. But I couldn’t. He was right. Besides, I don’t slap people anyway. Instead I just awkwardly agree and then look down at my feet wondering what my toes might look like all squished together in my shoes.
We then went over to the check-in tables where I gave a girl all my information.
“Great,” she said, “I got you all checked in.” She smiled at me blankly as if we were done.
“Uh… Wait. What about my shirt?” I asked her. I NEEDED that fucking shirt. I had gotten one every single year since my own diagnosis in 2007 and it was proof that I could do something for people OTHER than myself. I NEEDED that fucking proof.
“Oh, you only get that when you raise more than a hundred dollars,” she muttered as if I had done no such thing.
“Yeah. I raised almost four hundred,” I said.
She looked confused. “Oh… Uh… Well. That’s not on this list. But I will get you one anyway. What’s your size?”
I couldn’t tell if everyone’s numbers weren’t on her list, or just mine. Either way, she handed the t-shirt over skeptically and without any kudos for my job well done. I NEEDED those fucking kudos.
The shirt itself was rather uninspiring too. Although it had a clever design with an AIDS ribbon forming the number “30” (due to it being the 30th anniversary), this sat on the bottom corner of the shirt. In the center of the chest (where the ribbon should have gone), it said “Colorado Health Network.” While they are a great organization I fully support, this layout made the shirt look corporate. I wouldn’t even bother turning it into a bad muscle tank like I did with last year’s shirt.
When the walk actually started, it looked more like we were all making our way to jury duty. We came here because we had to, not because we wanted to. That was the impression. Once upon a time, people were dying. The devastation and loss was enough to get folks to participate. Now that people are rarely dying (at least in our modern country), that same urgency no longer exists. But still, a need for help seriously continues. It’s just harder to see.
Among the swarm of all the lackluster, my brain began to wander off, thinking about possible new motivators. What else could we do? What could change? How can we get people to be excited about this? How can we make this more fun?
I know “AIDS” and “fun” don’t really go hand-in-hand, but truth be told, people don’t really get all that psyched up for a “small memorial event.” When it comes to raising money and doing a 5k walk or run, they want to have smiles on their faces and a laugh with their friends. They want a unique experience and to “can’t believe” what they just did. They want bragging rights and solid content for their social media.
Obstacle courses. People freaking love obstacle courses! You can’t throw a stone without hitting someone who’s wearing a shirt for the Tough Mudder or the Spartan Race or the Zombie Run or the Warrior Dash (and eagerly awaiting for you to ask them about it). My partner once did a race called the “Devil Dash” where obstacles had a “seven deadly sins” theme.
Zombies and sins probably don't fit well for a walk/race supporting HIV and AIDS, but you get the idea. The organization can come up with its own theme, even if it’s just the color red representing the iconic color of the AIDS ribbon. Participants could receive a blank white t-shirt with a secret design printed on it. In one obstacle, they could flop into a vat of red water, dying their shirt and revealing the design.
Or you could throw shit on people. Well, not literal shit. But, like, red dust something. I constantly see social media posts of people covered in all sorts of neon substances from whatever race that does that.
There could even be a kids course. Do you know how much money little Johnny or Janet could raise? I’m not a father so I don’t know what people are naming their kids these days. But if they are cute enough, friends and family won’t be able to resist giving money so they could raise funds for a good cause AND have the time of their lives.
Maybe those other races might rent out some of their obstacles for “free” so they could get a big tax write off for it. Although I am not sure how any of that works.
Or maybe the AIDS Walk could switch things up by holding the event at night… and making it a glow-in-the-dark theme. If there’s something people love more than getting shit thrown on them, it’s wearing weird and wild costumes that glow. Could you imagine how cool it would look to have the routed city streets filled with people wearing all sorts of red glowing gear? The visual luminance would have both participants and onlookers buzzing for months and excited to do it again next year.
And to top it off, when participants cross the finish line, there could be a DJ and a dance floor to keep the night of red glowing goodness going. Plus, this would make for a great excuse to sell loads of alcohol at a high mark up and raise even more funds. “IT’S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE!,” people would shout as they accidentally vomit from the hundred dollars worth of booze they just drank.
AIDS Walk could also make money off of the glow gear itself. Again, don’t companies want to donate products for a tax write off? If not, then maybe at least some extremely cheap versions can be shipped in from China.
Having never planned a major 5k charitable event, I don’t really know if ideas like these are all that feasible. One would think that if it meant this much to me, I would join the board or the committee that plans the AIDS Walk Colorado and win over their hearts to such concepts. But I’d never do that. I just don't have it in me at this point in my life. And I have been on boards before - they make me want to pull my hair out… one strand at a time.
Instead, I’ll probably just pass this essay on to a friend who works for the organization, hoping he will pass it on to the board or the organizers. This terribly passive move makes me realize something else: I may not be quite as whole heartedly committed to charity as I’d like to think. Ultimately, all of this might just make me another asshole with yet another opinion.
When we neared the end of the walk, we saw two sad little signs that simply said “finish.” No balloon archway way stood tall to welcome us back. No cheer squad jumped up and down to cheer us for our efforts. Unfortunately, it seemed all too appropriate. And although I won’t step up and join whatever committee to make the difference that’s needed, hopefully I’m at least an asshole who can help spark some new ideas. And make them glow. Because, in the end, I don’t want to see AIDS Walk Colorado cross it’s own sad little finish line.
Special thanks to this year's donors: Glen Trupp, Casey Peel, Sinead Kasch, Gage Grotty-Garrett, Wesley Peterson, Bublz LaRue, Kathy Capell, Kevin Lole, Kyle Oliveria, and Richard Viken.
Additional thanks to my guest editor Migue Martínez Vázquez - @okmigue2
Edited by Glen Trupp
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