1. How did you find out about Action Cycling Atlanta and the AIDS ride?
I first heard about Action Cycling Atlanta and the AV200 Bike Ride through Joshua Campbell and Steve McCarter who have both been actively involved over the past several years. They were the first two people I met when I moved to Atlanta in the Fall of 2016. However, it wasn’t until about a year later when I received an email at Emory University (where I work) that mentioned the AV200 Ride and The Emory Vaccine Center. It was at this point, I took a deeper dive to do further research about the event. The more I learned about the the Ride, the events, and the history of it, the more I could not ignore it and wanted to jump in and be a part of this non-profit organization.
2. Why did you choose to get involved?
What sealed the deal for me to get involved is that 100% of all the money that is raised goes directly back to the organization. An all-volunteer organization where no one is drawing a paycheck like other ‘big-box’ charities, was what hooked me. Also, I chose to get involved in this effort because so many people I have met in Atlanta are involved in giving back to their communities, neighborhoods, houses of worship, etc. Atlanta is ‘ground zero’ for human and civil rights. So many folks here are of service to others and their communities . The more I researched about the event and where the money went and how the money was spent – I could only say YES! to getting involved.
3. What’s your secret to fundraising so successfully early on?
Staying focused and being authentic and sincere about my messaging for donations; and, of course timing and maybe some beginners luck. I made sure from the beginning to give credit where credit was due, that I thanked everyone publicly via social media; and, as social media does these days, the message mushroomed for my family and friends around the country to take action. I found that when the riders, like Mark Buchanan, made a video after their training rides on the weekend, and I would share that video with my contacts, there was an uptick in donations when my connections saw and heard from a specific rider. It made the AV200 Bike Ride real and authentic to my contacts around the country.
4. Do you have any personal stories you’re comfortable sharing about how HIV/AIDS has had an impact on your life?
In the early 1980’s I was in my early 20’s and as we all now know, this was the first time we began to hear about the disease. It was a very confusing time for those of us at that age – especially as we were coming to terms with our sexuality and to have fun as most young people do at that age in their lives. There was so much bad information, wrong information, and often – no information – about HIV/AIDS, that fear and uncertainty was running rampant among the gay, bi, and straight communities. Then in 1985 I became a flight attendant where HIV/AIDS made a dramatic impact on our workforce. The airline industry was hit hard and my new airline colleagues and myself lost many great friends and wonderful personalities to the disease. It was heartbreaking to let these vibrant, fun, young guys pass on. We were way too young to be going through this time of sadness and loss. And to compound the tragedy even more, we had very little support from the government, the medical community, and most social networks to help those who were dying. It was a very emotional time. So, today, to see how far we have come with the support systems, medications, awareness, and the continued research to find a vaccine to prevent and cure HIV/AIDS gives me great and renewed hope that I will see this disease be eradicated in my lifetime.
5. What would you tell others who are considering riding or volunteering this year?
We need you. We need your time, your money, your support, your ‘boots on the ground.’ Whether you want to ride or volunteer- just do it – don’t stop and second guess it. Get busy. We have come too far since the early days of HIV/AIDS to become complacent and relaxed and allow ourselves to let our guard down. Now more than ever we need the momentum of the community to remain strong and to support the scientists who are doing this vital research to find a vaccine. We welcome you with open arms – come join us. The time is now.
6. One of our hashtags for the ride is #WhyIRide (or volunteer), what quick, social media worthy answer would you give to that?
I volunteer to support and memorialize those who have gone before me; those who are now living with and affected by HIV/AIDS; and to those who are yet to come…so that they may be free of the pain, suffering, and loss so many of us have experienced in the past.
7. Any last minute thoughts to share?
I would like to see the AV200 Bike Ride expand and be recognized nationally. I don’t really know how that would look but since most of my donations came from people around the country I think we have great opportunity to make this a national event on some scale. Ultimately, a big name sponsor like an Oprah, or an Ellen DeGeneres, or a high-profile celebrity as well as corporate sponsors will bring the Ride the notoriety it deserves with goal of infusing more cash into the Emory Vaccine Center.