While HIV/AIDS is not in the headlines the way it once was, it is still a huge challenge. In all, 1.7 million individuals in the United States are infected, and of those 20% don’t know they have it. Each year, there are 50,000 new infections, and while that number has remained constant in the last decade, the population being infected has shifted - 26% of new infections are persons between the ages of 13-25 and 57% are African Americans. When people hear these numbers they are generally surprised, thinking that the problem of HIV/AIDS had been solved.
The community of people on the ride is unparalleled. While riding, eating, camping out, and sharing your aches and pains together are a certainly bonding experience, it goes far deeper. A good deal of the conversation over the four days is about ‘Why we ride’, and that knowledge creates a far deeper level of caring than most anything I have done in my life. We all talk about building ‘community’ in lots of different facets of our lives, but let me give you two concrete example of this community. One of the riders had his bike stolen a week before the ride. Within 24 hours, nearly $2,500 was raised by other riders to purchase a new bike for him. On the last day of the ride, one of our youth riders, Manny, broke a rim. Another rider gave Manny his bike so that he could finish the ride. These acts of caring and generosity are what define community, and ones that we should reward with recognition and pay forward.
This year, we had five riders from American Legion High School in Oak Park join the ride. They made and fulfilled commitments to raise funds and fully participated over the four days. While they learned that being 18 only gets you so far on minimal training, our hope and belief is that their takeaways from the ride include becoming Ambassadors for NCAC and spreading the important message to their friends and peers of the need for being tested. It’s the one way we can get a handle on this horrible disease.
To date, the ride has raised $310,000 and it is still accepting donations (www.norcalaidscycle.org). They are also looking for both Board members and participants for next year. Please let me know if you have questions or an interest. To those of you who supported me in the ride, thank you. And thank you for letting me share this story.
In addition to his council duties, Jay works as an independent consultant and policy advisor on education reform and youth policy and strategies.