Thousands of people flocked to Piedmont Park on a gorgeous Sunday to participate in the annual AIDS Walk Atlanta and 5K Run, raising money for area agencies that serve those with HIV and AIDS.
Early estimates show the walk and run have raised more than $722,000 so far. People can donate until Nov. 30 to AID Atlanta.
"Sometimes those of us in the field feel alone, that the world has forgotten about HIV and AIDS, and then we have the walk and 10,000 people show up and remind us that they haven't forgotten, that Atlanta still cares," said Tracy Elliott, executive director of AID Atlanta, the organizer of the annual event.
"It keeps my energy going for the year. It's a really meaningful day," Elliott said. "I love this day."
Elliott was among many visiting the panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt that attracts a solemn crowd each year as people remember loved ones as well as remember what the fight to find a cure for HIV and AIDS is all about.
"The quilt reminds us why were here," Elliott said. "We have to stop this quilt from growing. Unfortunately, it continues to grow every day. And the quilt is a perfect reminder of the purpose for all this work and all this effort."
Jimene Conn, 42, of Lawrenceville, Ga., ran in the event's 5K in memory of three people. She was also looking over the dozens of panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
She carried a poster with the names of the people she ran to honor: Derald Newby, Charles "Mac" Rieck, and Brad Davis, the actor who starred in "Midnight Express" and died in 1991.
Newby was the man who cut Conn's hair from the time she was 11 until she was 24 when he became too ill to work, she said. She's become good friends with Dixon's son, a musician, and Rieck is the brother of a good friend, she said.
"Even today with all the education and awareness there still so much stigma and that bothers me greatly," Conn said. "I ran in honor of these great people who aren't with us anymore."
"One of the things I put on my poster," she said, holding it up, is, "'Every life deserves compassion, support and hope.'
"And that's something I do believe in. And I just want them all to be remembered," she said tearfully.
Another person wiping away tears while looking over the AIDS Memorial Quilt was Brett Parker, 28, of Atlanta who participated in the Atlanta AIDS Walk and 5K with friends and family members who made up the team "Brett's Babes."
"I'm here with family and friends, raising funds and to find a cure eventually," Parker, who is gay, said.
Last year his team had five members and this year it had eight, including his mom and dad wearing t-shirts that read "Brett's Mom" and "Brett's Dad."
Being part of the Atlanta AIDS Walk is a way to remind people that the disease impacts real lives, Parker said.
"We want to bring a voice that's there real people out there," he said after he wiped his eyes with a tissue while looking at the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
"The quilt especially makes you remember there are people [who have the disease]. We live in a time where it's not a death sentence but that wasn't the case for everybody. It's amazing how far we've come but how far we need to go," he added.
Gay and bisexual men continue to be the demographic with the highest rates of HIV. Parker said he and others in within his community have to realize this every day.
"The walk is not only for people have it but for those who don't yet. It's [HIV and AIDS] always on everybody's mind in the community — or it should be," he said.
For Antonio Stephens, 36, of Atlanta, the quilt brings "hope and celebration."
"Many people who were loved and are now being remembered," he said. "I hope that people around the world see this ... and one day we have a cure for it."
AIDS Walk beneficiaries
AIDS Alliance for Faith & Health
AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta
Home But Not Alone
Top Fundraising Teams (as of 10/14/2011)
SunTrust Bank - $21,183
DST Metro Alum Chapter — $20,022.
AutoTrader.com — $13,058.
Kimberly-Clark — $12,620.
Spelman AWA — $16,003.99
LemonAIDS — $11,600
CDC AIDS Walk Team — $10,571.11
Saint Mark UMC — $10,680.20
Fenuxe Magazine's Best Bachelor Fundraising Challenge — $9,472.76
Alston & Bird LLC — $8,585
Top fundraisers among benefiting agencies:
AID Atlanta — $79,839.69
AID Gwinnett/Ric Crawford Clinic — $22,295.50
Jerusalem House — $22,590
Positive Impact — $57,071
Check out how all teams did here.
People can donate until Nov. 30 to the walk. Click here for more information.
Photo: People take time to view the AIDS Memorial Quilt at Piedmont Park during the 2011 AIDS Walk Atlanta & 5K Run. (by Dyana Bagby)