April 18, 2008
WAXING ELOQUENT IN WASHINGTON
Boucicault (right) with her translator Elsy Guibert
The spectacular fourth-annual Keith D. Cylar Awards and Gala took place last night (look for a full report next Friday). This year's awardees were honored earlier in the week in Washington, D.C. After two productive days of lobbying, Gloria González, Esther Boucicault, Diane Williams, and Health GAP's Paul Davis and Asia Russell gathered in a Rayburn Building conference room on Tuesday for cocktails and a brief ceremony attended by some 60 well-wishers, including the event's co-sponsor Rep. Yvette Clark (D-NY), Housing Works clients, and staffers to Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE). Advocates from the National AIDS Housing Coalition, AIDS Action, the AIDS Institute and the Whitman-Walker Clinic were also on hand.
Clark noted the important work the activists are doing. "This is a health imperative and we need to make sure that people with AIDS are not marginalized," Clark said.
In their own words
The schmoozing over appetizers and drinks didn't stop the five awardees, who true to form as unstoppable AIDS activists, kept right on advancing their agendas. During her remarks, González spoke about issues that are hindering improvements for people living with HIV/AIDS in her native Puerto Rico and directed her remarks to any legislators in the room to get involved with Puerto Rico's mismanagement of Ryan White funds. "If you don't take action today the problem will follow you," González said. She also spoke up about the importance for drug users to be given help, including syringe exchange. "If you think the person who is on the streets is there because they want to be, you are mistaken," she said.
Bouicault was the first person in Haiti to publicly discuss living with HIV—she gave a now-famous series of radio and television interviews in 1998. In her remarks to the ceremony attendees she said, "I was the first one to take the courage because I wanted to give the disease a face. I always wonder if someone had come before me, would I have gotten HIV?"
The awardees who knew Keith Cylar, the fiery Housing Works cofounder after whom the activist awards are named, shared stories of how he inspired them. "Keith refused to separate global issues from domestic issues," Davis said. "And he knew that the closer the insider is to the outsider the bigger the impact is."
Russell also credited Cylar for guiding her towards activism successes. "As a young, white HIV-negative activist, Keith taught me that people with AIDS have the power to lead us," she said.
Williams, who got a rousing applause when she took the mic, also shared how Cylar influenced her life and activism. "I remember Keith coming back from a protest and I asked, 'Why did you get arrested?' He said, 'I'm not going to stop until we have housing and healthcare for ourselves!' So that's what I do. I don't want a mother or child to go through what I went through."