August 29, 2008
CHANGE FROM CHICAGO
Wallace (with AIDS Foundation of Chicago's David Munar) of the Stand Against AIDS
This article is one of a series of Update profiles of men and women who will be leading activist caravans as part of the Stand Against AIDS, a multi-arm, multi-week advocacy roadtrip aimed at getting presidential hopefuls Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain to commit to taking meaningful steps toward the creation of a National AIDS Plan within 100 days of taking office. The caravans kick off in mid-September and converge in Oxford, Mississippi on September 23 for four days of action. The first debate between Obama and McCain takes place in Oxford on September 26.
When Richard Wallace, 26, started working as an organizer in Chicago, he noticed how the African-American community was hurt by the AIDS epidemic, other health disparities and a disproportionate number of people in prison. After his godfather was infected with HIV, the struggle became personal.
Wallace is the Mississippi River caravan leader for the Stand Against AIDS, which late next week will tell a fellow former Chicago organizer (and Sen. John McCain) to commit to creating a national AIDS plan in the first 100 days of taking office if elected U.S. president. "I see a million people get testing, but if you don't provide simple services like food, water and shelter, then it's all for nothing," Wallace said.
Wallace's front-line prevention and outreach work allow him to see the big picture when it comes to HIV/AIDS. He works at the Test Positive Aware Network doing counseling and networking for men who have sex with men on the West Side of Chicago, where he struggles to get youth to take prevention seriously. He recounts the story of a kid telling him he wasn't worried about contracting "high five" (HI-V) because if he just took "skittles" (medication) he'd be fine. "The youth at this point just need some clear cut information about HIV," Wallace said. "My goal is to provide that."
Wallace also works at Refuge, providing information to families of newly infected former prisoners. "We educate the families so they know they can sit on the same toilet and provide basic HIV 101," he said.
Despite Wallace's commitment to AIDS advocacy and having graduated from C2EA's Youth Action Institute in 2006, he was initially skeptical when C2EA national organizer Larry Bryant approached him about leading a Stand Against AIDS caravan. "Too often people at the grassroots level are recruited to get locked up or make noise, but in the end, a few people get picked to have their voices heard," Wallace said.
Bryant convinced Wallace this wouldn't be the case, and Wallace is now optimistic. He leads the his "caravan" via Amtrak from Chicago on September 22.
"Day in and day out, I work with people who are at the highest risk for HIV but aren't getting the services they need. People in the heartland and across the country have been devastated by inaction on AIDS over the last eight years, so we're taking the message directly to the candidates that it's well past time to seriously address AIDS in the United States," Wallace said.