By MIKE CLARY
FORT LAUDERDALE — A rainbow tide of men, women and children in brightly colored shirts swept along the beachfront Sunday in an annual effort to raise money and awareness about a deadly disease that continues to plague South Florida.
“This event is always very invigorating,” said Dave Barrett, 57, a retired postal clerk who headed a team called Warriors for Life that each year takes part in the Florida AIDS Walk and Music Festival. “We all support each other, and walk in solidarity for a common cause.”
That cause is funding research and providing for care for those afflicted with HIV/AIDS, a disease that afflicts more than 35 million people worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Florida continues to be considered ground zero for this infection,” said Walk director Mark Martin, regional director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provides medications and promotes disease fighting in the state.
Many of those walking Sunday were propelled by personal reasons. Rosalie Kerr hiked the 5K course while carrying a photo of her son Robert Kerr, a 14-year deputy with the Broward Sheriff’s Office who died in October 2004 at the age of 39.
“He was a great kid,” said Rosalie Kerr, 72. “This is a very emotional event for me.”
Taking part in the walk for the eighth consecutive year was Lorrie Cram, who has lost two daughters to AIDS. Kimberly Johnson was 8 when she died in 2000, and Ceyra Martin was 20 when she succumbed in 2010.
Since the last Walk, Cram said, she has visited Ghana, the heart of the African epidemic, and gained a new perspective on the vastness of the plague.
“People still don’t have a good idea of how far-reaching this disease is,” said Cram, 50, who heads an organization called Kidz 4 A Cure.
“Here HIV/AIDS still makes people nervous; there the stigmatization is bad.”
Wearing tube socks decorated in the colors of the rainbow flag, former San Francisco resident Sonny Miller said he could not help but think of the dozens of friends he had lost to the disease over the years.
“There is a lot more understanding now, but it seems to me that we shouldn’t have to do walks like this to raise money,” said Miller, 67, an insurance company retiree.
Martin said he expected the Walk to raise about $800,000. An estimated 1,500 of 4,000 registered participants showed up to walk, he said.
Not everyone walked, of course. The first to finish the course was Cheri Cummings, 46, a health and physical education teacher at Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines. She returned to the starting line on Fort Lauderdale beach a little more than 36 minutes after setting out.
Trailing close behind was her friend Leslie Medina, 37.
“My uncle, a Miami school teacher, died of AIDS 20 years ago, and I do this every year in his honor,” said Cummings. “I just felt energized.”
Everyone seemed to feel energized shortly after the end of the Walk when the pop rock band the Go-Go’s took the ocean-side stage behind lead singer Belinda Carlisle and the group launched into a few of their 1980s hits, including “Vacation.”
To see AHF’s initial photos of Florida AIDS Walk, click here: