Hosted by MTV News’ Sway Calloway, musical guests joining Reverend Sharpton onstage included DJ Lina, rapper Cassidy, Grammy Award winner Bridget Kelly, Grammy Award-winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, whose performances inspired the crowd throughout the March
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK (April 6, 2013)—Approximately 500 advocates, community leaders, artists, and citizens participated in the “Keep the Promise on HIV/AIDS” March and Rally on Saturday, April 6th in Brooklyn, New York’s Cadman Plaza Park. The event—the third in a series calling on officials to commit to stopping AIDS—was hosted by radio and television personality Sway Calloway and among the speakers was the Reverend Al Sharpton, one of America’s foremost civil rights leaders who marked his second “Keep The Promise” appearance on Saturday. Transgendered activist DJ Lina showed support by opening the rally on her turntables, and musical guests included hip-hop emcee Cassidy, Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Native Bridget Kelly, Grammy-Award-winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a popular New York City-based marching band.
Created by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the “Keep the Promise” campaign brings together local and national advocates along with spiritual and political leaders to remind elected officials that the fight against HIV/AIDS is not yet won. Additional supporters of the New York “Keep the Promise” rally and march included LifeBeat and the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office.
About 250 advocates from regions across the Northeast—including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island—traveled by bus to NYC to support the “Keep the Promise” goals and join in the rally and march. Over 300 participants signed a pledge to Keep The Promise on AIDS by: urging President Barack Obama to stop funding cuts to domestic and global AIDS programs like the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and national AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP); to end the baseless hatred or fear of people living with the virus commonly known as HIV stigma; to use condoms and encourage condom use to others to help prevent the spread of HIV; to support affordable housing for people living with the virus, as well as the reduction of drug prices by pharmaceutical companies for HIV/AIDS medication; and finally to support the decriminalization of HIV/AIDS.
Sway Calloway, a hip-hop cultural icon and pivotal reporter of over a decade for MTV News, hosted the event, joining in the direct call to President Obama to fund HIV/AIDS care worldwide and reminding the crowd of the importance of AIDS activism between the stirring musical performances. Philadelphia rapper Cassidy was a hit with the gathered crowd, and closed his show with a performance of his Gangam-Style parody “Condom Style,” a song packed with safer sex messaging that the artist partnered with AHF’s Condom Nation – the national free condom distribution team – for a music video that has gone viral on YouTube with over 1 million views since January.
Following Cassidy’s performance were the musical talents of two Grammy Award-winning artists: Brooklyn native Bridget Kelly and violinist Miri Ben-Ari of Tel Aviv, who was named one of the ten most influential Israelis in America by Israeli news network YNet in 2011 and whose breathtaking violin performance to hip-hop beats drew awestruck pedestrians for surrounding streets in Downtown Brooklyn, adding to the rallied crowd.
In addition to the free concert, the rally featured inspirational speeches from historic civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, AHF President Michael Weinstein, New York City Council Member Stephen Levin (Brooklyn, 33rd District), and New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D, District 25), who endorsed New York’s “No Condoms As Evidence” Bill. This legislation prohibits New York City police from using the fact that a person is carrying condoms as a cause for search or arrest for suspicion of such crimes as prostitution. In her speech, Montgomery said using condom carrying against people “undermines sound health policy.”
An issue of particular importance raised at the rally was the ongoing funding cuts by the Obama Administration to crucial AIDS programs both global and domestic. About 20 advocates wore T-shirts that prominently displayed the President’s face and the word “SHAME,” signifying his decision to cut $220 million from PEPFAR in FY 2013. This follows devastating funding cuts to the globally touted program in 2012 that resulted in, among other impacts, the closure of the HIV/AIDS clinic in South Africa’s McCord’s Hospital in Durban last year. The closure of just that single facility forced 4,000 adults and 1,000 children to rely on already over-burdened public health clinics in the region – a transition that risks the lives of patients.
“AIDS rages in gay black men as strongly in America as AIDS rages in Africa,” Weinstein said in his address to the crowd. “That’s the consequence of devaluing a life.”
In states throughout the nation, patients still wait on government ADAP lists in the hope of accessing treatment and care for HIV/AIDS. Another contributing factor to this inaccessibility of medication – which AHF also called to change at the “Keep The Promise” rally – is the inflated prices of leading antiretroviral medications. AHF has frequently protested the gauged prices of HIV drugs produced by pharmaceutical giant Gilead, whose most recently released daily HIV pill, Strybld, costs $28,500 per patient per year – more than most people living with HIV earn annually. While patients struggle to afford the treatment, Gilead CEO John Martin rakes in a salary of $54 million per year, plus bonuses.
“If we don’t fight for civil rights for everybody, then we don’t fight for civil rights for anybody,” said Reverend Sharpton during his speech. “There’s one standard, one world, one promise.”
With the crowd’s enthusiasm for this re-birth of AIDS activism piqued after the entertainment and speeches in the early afternoon, the rally transformed into a powerful march the saw the iconic Brooklyn Bridge packed with marchers carrying signs and holding large globe balloons as they streamed into Lower Manhattan to City Hall Park.
New York’s own Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a marching band that performs at rallies, picket lines, and various other demonstrations and activism efforts – pumped up the larger crowd with crashing symbols and blaring horns coupled with rhythmic drums and the emphatic cheers of people concerned about the diminishing fight against the still-present global AIDS epidemic as the throng marched across the iconic span chanting, “What do we want? – Funding for treatment! – When do we want it? – Now!” and “Medication for Every Nation!”
Supporting organizations for the “Keep the Promise” march included: After Hours Project, Housing Works, Metropolitan Community Church-NY, Positive Women’s Network, Iris House, Exponents, HEAT Program at SUNY Downstate, Village Cares, AIDS Service Center (ASC), Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), Commission on the Public Health System (CPHS) and Brooklyn Pride.
This third “Keep the Promise” march follows the inaugural “Keep the Promise” March on Washington in July 2012, when a coalition of 1,432 organizations from 103 countries came together before the XIX International AIDS Conference to call for more global HIV/AIDS funding. Reverend Sharpton was among the special guests who participated, including Wyclef Jean, Ambassador Andrew Young, Tavis Smiley, Dr. Cornel West, Margaret Cho and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The second “Keep the Promise” march in Atlanta, Georgia on November 3, 2012 served as a clarion call to better address HIV/AIDS in the South, through funding, health care reform, prevention and care in rural areas, and affordable housing for people living with HIV/AIDS. Another “Keep the Promise” rally and march—this time in Ohio—is scheduled for later this year.