Thousands of people cross the finish line for AIDS Walk New York 2017. Photo: Justin McCallum

Teams Rev Up for AIDS Walk’s Return

With just a month to go, teams are energetically recruiting members and sponsors ahead of AIDS Walk New York’s return to Central Park on Sunday, May 15.

“People are really excited to come back. There’s an energy—a renewal,” said Thom Medrano, GMHC’s coordinator for the walkers and teams. “They’re calling now to plan their day.”

Medrano is feeling the anticipation, as he fields calls from people eager to return for their first live AIDS Walk since 2019, before COVID-19 forced the event to go virtual.

A lot are already organizing their team breakfasts and designing their t-shirts. They want to know where their teams should meet—and if they can bring flags and walk with a banner. “People want to show their company or school pride,” he said.

More than double the number of individual walkers and teams had registered by early April than at the same point for the 2020 and 2021 virtual walks, Medrano said, and GMHC is expecting about 8,000 people to participate. “We have well over 1,000 more people registered than this time last year,” he added.

The annual walk is a communal New York tradition, and an incredibly diverse array of teams turn out—from family and friend groups, like The Larry Kaplan & Family 20 Year Team and the Salty Bitches, to churches, schools, corporate affinity groups, and law firms.

April brings a big surge of registrations, and walkers and teams will keep signing up right until the week of the May 15 walk, Medrano said. “Now is the crunch time for them for raising money and getting people to join their teams.”

There are a few changes for this year’s event. It will start at the Bandshell, instead of Bethesda Fountain, with sign-in at 8:30 a.m., followed by a pre-walk stretch and then the opening ceremony at 9:15.

The walk starts at 10 a.m. at the 72nd Street Transverse with a new, shorter route—a four-mile loop through Central Park. That should leave everyone with enough energy to regroup at the Bandshell for a new event—a post-walk dance party starting at 11 a.m.

A team of family and friends proudly display their banner reading, “WE WALK TO END AIDS NOW!” Photo: Leif Green (2014)

Memorial Moms

Talking to so many walkers this year, said Medrano, who’s helping to organize his 21st AIDS Walk New York, reconnects him to “the kind of feeling I had when I first started,” especially the calls from longstanding memorial teams.

“I’ll get choked up talking to mothers who say they’ve been walking 20 or 25 years for a son whom they lost in the 90s—or sisters who are walking for their brothers. One woman told me about the dreams her son had of being a conductor, but his life was cut short,” he said. 

“When I hear those stories, it gives me the motivation to keep doing what we do,” Medrano said. “It’s still so important to them.”

Medrano said he’s signing up a lot of teams from schools and companies that hadn’t participated since 2019, before the pandemic. “We’re excited to have youth doing the walk,” he said, including teams from East Side Middle School and Hostos Student Leadership Academy.

College sororities and fraternities are back too. Two of the biggest teams are the Lambda Sigma Upsilon Latino Fraternity, with 75 walkers so far, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Tau Omega chapter, which has already raised $4,900 of its $5,000 goal.

Community teams range from the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus to the House of Xtravaganza to the NYC Department of Social Services.

Corporate teams include MAC Cosmetics, MetLife, OUT@LOREAL, and Wells Fargo Pride, along with plenty of teams from this year’s sponsors: ViiV Healthcare, Mesmerize, Bloomberg, Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation, Paul Weiss, VNSNY-Select Health, Oaktree Capital, Amida Care, and Steinway & Sons.

A young woman strikes a pose along the route through the AIDS WALK route in Central Park.
A young woman strikes a pose along the route through Central Park. (2014)

Crunch Time

This year’s top overall fundraiser so far, with almost $49,000, is Francine Goldstein, who is doing her 34th AIDS Walk New York.

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, which is the Episcopal parish for Times Square, is currently the top team. It’s already raised $34,000 of its $40,000 goal, with the slogan: “Together, we can make a difference.”

Lots of other teams are revving up their efforts as the big day approaches. The CandyWrappers, with the slogan, “Use your power for good y’all,” have raised $6,711, and Alliance for Positive Change, a GMHC community partner, has raised almost $4,000. Both are aiming for an ambitious $25,000 goal.

Activists started AIDS Walk New York in 1986 as a fundraiser for GMHC because they recognized that ending the epidemic means fighting the social ills that fuel HIV and AIDS—racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and poverty.

Over the last 36 years, AIDS Walk New York has raised over $163 million for GMHC and other HIV and AIDS service organizations, particularly for marginalized communities that are most at risk. It’s also a special day for thousands of New Yorkers to converge on Central Park and show their pride and solidarity with everyone affected by HIV and AIDS.

Medrano, a transplanted Californian, has also worked on the San Francisco and Los Angeles AIDS Walks. “The buzz, the involvement and engagement of New York’s AIDS Walk is hands down the best,” he said.

Join us! Register here, and if you can’t make it to the park, support your favorite walker or team here. For help setting up your fundraising page or any other AIDS Walk New York questions, email Medrano at awnyinfo@aidswalk.net or call him at (212) 807-9255.

As we eagerly anticipate May 15, here are some amazing past photos from AIDS Walk New York.

The NYC Gay Men’s Chorus team shows their pride! Photo: Leif Green (2014)
Enthusiastic cheerleaders represent. It’s what AIDS Walk New York is all about! Photo: Donna Aceto (2019)
Exhilarated walkers show off team t-shirts reading “KEEP CALM and Walk for a CURE.” Photo: Justin McCallum (2017)
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