World AIDS Day: “Out Of The Darkness” Vigil In St. John’s Lutheran Church


World AIDS

Day 2019:

“Out Of The Darkness”


Family members and loved ones gathered to hold candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day with guest speakers and performances.

Family members and loved ones gathered at St. John’s Lutheran Church (81 Christopher Street) to hold this year’s “Out of the Darkness” candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day. At the gathering, members of the community read the names of those we have lost to AIDS, along with commemorations from guest speakers, flag and fan dance performances, and choral songs.

The rainy weather made it challenging, yet the vigil was filled with dozens of families, members of the community, and first-time attendees. The event began with the reading of names of those we have lost to AIDS by Jeff Bosacki, Pilar Gomez, Heritage of Pride, A.R.E.A., HOP and IAPI volunteers, followed by a flag and fan dance performance dedicated to activists and caregivers lost to AIDS. 

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“And you’re like ‘I’m not hopeful’ and yet you are here, and you’re active, and you’re not letting the despair win, but instead you are living hope and so I thank you because it is inspiration within our community is an inspiration to the world.”

Reverend Mark E. Erson of St. John’s Lutheran Church welcomed the attendees to the “Out of the Darkness” vigil and thanked everyone for participating despite the unfortunate rainy weather. The reverend spoke about the meaning of hope, and the importance of continuing to celebrate the legacy of those who we’ve loss to AIDS.

Brent Nicholson Earle, President and founder of American Run for the End of AIDS (A.R.E.A.) gave the opening remarks, reminding us about the hardships our community faced in the ‘90s when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani proclaimed himself the enemy of AIDS activism and pushed his agenda to dismantle the Department of AIDS Services. Brent also acknowledged our resilience in never giving up the fight, and remembered those who lost their lives to HIV-related illnesses.

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“The Journey of Acceptance is a Struggle”

Jason VernaKular Walker of Voices of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY) spoke about his coming out and being HIV+, and introduced his loving mother Renee Van Dyke, who brought the crowd to tears with her kind words of acceptance. Ms. Van Dyke showed so much support and appreciation for her son’s work and the positive things he is doing, not just for the LGBTQ community, but also other important causes; to see the great work Jason and his fellow activists are doing, check out VOCAL-NY.

Gregg Bruckno, Long-Term Survivor Specialist at GMHC, shared a heartfelt story about coming out as gay to his mother and sister and being diagnosed with AIDS in 1999, but out of fear of criticism by his family and friends did not share this news with anyone until 2017 at a time when he felt it was the right thing to do, Gregg began educating others about the importance of not being ashamed by.

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The NAMES Project Memorial Quilt was first introduced in 1985 by AIDS activist Cleve Jones in remembrance of the 1978 assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone in San Francisco. Jones had people write the names of loved ones that were lost to AIDS-related causes on signs. The first display of The Quilt was in 1987 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. with the goal of bringing awareness to how massive the AIDS pandemic really is, bringing support and healing to those affected by it, and raising funds for community-based AIDS service organizations to increase their funding for AIDS prevention and education.

About Reflection on the Quilts 

Displayed in the church sanctuary and supplied by the International AIDS Prevention Initiative are sections of the Global Quilt from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, South Africa, and Venezuela. The original Out of the Darkness Signature Quilt, displayed at the front of the sanctuary, is adorned with names and messages from 10 past World AIDS Day gatherings. In recent years, memorials have been left on separate panels which are sewn into 12 x 6 foot quilt sections, one of which is displayed amongst the International Quilts in the sanctuary.

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This was the eighth such effort to bring the Rainbow Flag as a symbolic “torch” from “Athens” of the Gay Games to current Quadrennials. As this series of events has evolved over the years, breast cancer has been added to AIDS in this effort for awareness and prevention. Thus, the signature Quilt is not exclusive to AIDS and, therefore, memorials may be left for anyone, regardless of the cause of death. The honoree of the Streicher, and Dr. Tom Waddell as an honoree in perpetuity. As she has done since 1994, Gert McMullin, Quilt Production Manager, has made all of the Signature Quilts to accompany the Rainbow Flag on its journey around the world.

Brent Nicholson Earle’s story about being involved in grassroots fighting against AIDS makes it obvious how times have not changed that much. Brent shared how:

“…back in the ‘90s if you were wealthy, you’d go to a banquet, but if you were a gung-ho activist you took to the streets.”

Today we celebrate ourselves and we fight to end AIDS with this same similar objective, but with a larger megaphone. There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations, like the ones who participated in this vigil, that are dedicated to raising awareness around practicing safe sex and maintaining healthier lifestyles, encouraging those who have recently being diagnosed with AIDS to explore options to help them reach undetected status and extend their chances to live a longer life, helping those who seek to be protected with affordable PrEP medicine if it’s out of reach, and offering condoms and education on sexually transmitted diseases.

Co-sponsored by American Run for the End of AIDS (AREA), Fundación MAROZO, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), Heritage of Pride (HOP), International AIDS Prevention Initiative (IAPI), Keith Haring Foundation, St. John’s Lutheran Church and supported by ACT UP/NY, AXIOS (Eastern Orthodox LGBT Christians), Health GAP (Global Access Project), New York City AIDS Memorial, Rivers of Living Water UCC, SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders), Treatment Action Group, Visual AIDS, and VOCAL-NY.

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Félix Santos


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Activisim ACTIVISM Editorial Events

How I lost My Activism Virginity And Why You Should Too


Climate Strike,

Sunset Park, Brooklyn

On September 27, 2019, a climate justice organization "Uprose" marched on Industry City, a creative waterfront business hub, blamed for the neighborhood's fast-paced gentrification.


During September’s “Global Week for Future,” over 6 million people all over the world took to the streets demanding their governments take action to address climate change. A series of passionate speeches by climate strike youth leader Greta Thunberg were a catalyst to last week’s series of global protests. The first youth-led wave of climate strikes on September 20, ahead of the UN’s Climate Action Summit on September 23, amassed over 2 million marchers. The US, the second-biggest polluter in the world, left the Paris Agreement in 2017; that agreement tasked world leaders to limit their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels , according to Vox.

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I missed the first Friday for Future climate strike on September 20, so I had to make sure to attend a strike the following Friday. I was interested in finding a small march that would be held in a New York neighborhood that I’d never visited before. Thanks to my old friend Google I found a strike that was going to take place in Sunset Park, a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn.

I got to Sunset Park a couple of hours before sunset, and the first thing I saw was about a hundred people peacefully sitting on a grassy slope, listening to speeches by different activists. Several people gathered behind benches where speakers were standing up and holding self-made protest signs and posters.

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A guy standing just a hundred feet to my left quickly caught my attention. He was wearing a crop top and peach velvet pants. It’s fairly easy to spot your own kind, I thought, and as if he read my mind, within two minutes he was standing right beside me offering an activist newspaper. “Come to our meetings, it’s every Wednesday. Just a bunch of queerdos getting together and talking about issues like police brutality, then going in the streets and getting arrested for it.”

He handed me a flyer targeting the MTA – their group’s new campaign. The flyer stated that “The MTA just added 500 cops to stop ‘farebeaters’ and is planning to lay off 2,700 MTA workers.” The MTA is claiming that it’s losing $260 million due to people skipping the fare, “but yet they have enough finances to hire cops.

Many speakers spoke next, from a Black Lives Matter movement founder, to three speakers from the International Indigenous Youth Council. The speakers brought up many issues: illegal cattle ranching in Nicaragua, DeBlasio’s plan to build four new jails in order to close the Rikers Island prison complex, ICE targeting Greyhound buses, and so on. But the main focus of the protest organized by “Uprose” – a leading advocate for climate justice – was to fight gentrification and rezoning in the neighborhood.

We then left the park with half a dozen activists carrying several pieces of cardboard that spelled “Climate Justice” as we marched towards Industry City. The predominantly Asian and Latino neighborhood of Sunset Park is afraid that the rezoning of one of the last industrial waterfronts will “push many longtime businesses and residents out,” News 12 Brooklyn reports.

Several speakers took to the microphone to express their frustrations about Industry City, whose owners, they argued, are responsible for the displacement of the local community. In the middle of the protest, Industry City turned on loud music inside its courtyard to drown out the crowd. The executive director of “Uprose,” and a national leader in the climate justice movement, Elizabeth Yeampierre, joked that “They are dancing to displacement.

Towards the end of the rally, a cop car pulled in, eventually accompanying the marchers on their way back and herding everyone onto the sidewalk. The cops flashed their lights and asked protesters not to spill out onto the road so as to avoid blocking traffic.

I’ve never attended a protest before, and my initial aim was to simply observe, as I never knew how I could personally contribute to any cause. When we got closer to Industry City, one of the marchers asked me if I wanted a sign, and I found myself saying “yes.”

It’s very easy to go through life with your eyes closed, letting someone else make decisions on your behalf – for example, putting our trust in politicians and public figures that we assume will have our best interests. However, when we see that the issues that we care about are not being prioritized on a legislative level, it’s time to take action. It’s obvious that greed and money are taking precedence over vitally important issues like climate change, or basic human rights.

It’s difficult to ignore the fact that climate change is something that will unquestionably affect all of us personally at some point. During that climate strike at Sunset Park, I realized that the first step towards change is knowledge. Go to more local meetings, and educate yourself on present issues as this may be just the right start towards real change.

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Alexey Kim


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