MOUNT VERNON, NY — December 1, 2019 — Dear Friends, For thirty-one years and counting, on December 1st, the commemoration of World AIDS Day has raised awareness of the AIDS pandemic, mourned those we’ve lost, and pushed for eradicating the disease around the globe. While its reach is worldwide, the reverberation on every person impacted by HIV/AIDS through a personal diagnosis or the experiences of friends or loved ones, is deeply personal.
This year’s theme centers around communities in the fight to support those living with HIV/AIDS and find a cure. As a lifelong Mount Vernon resident, I’m proud to relay our history and continued commitment on the frontlines of HIV/AIDS advocacy in Westchester County. In 1989, our City formed a community task force comprised of religious, educational, law enforcement and health officials to help address the then perilous fight against HIV/AIDS. It raised awareness and funding to combat the crisis. Six years later, I was hired to lead a Mount Vernon City Hall AIDS initiative. After a 1985 life-changing trip to Senegal and the Gambia, I dedicated myself to working toward supporting those diagnosed with the disease. From 1995-2001, I led the now defunct Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) department. While providing housing and food subsidies were our ostensible goals, we ultimately centralized services for HIV/AIDS patients by providing case management, education and outreach.
With sustained effort, the City’s initiatives, coupled with advancements in both patient care and prevention, helped stem the tide of a public health emergency. And, around the world, HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, functioning instead like a chronic illness. The work to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS and related deaths continues. As part of my administration’s public health mandate, there will be a renewed focus on education, care and outreach to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and support those in our community most affected.
Today is a day of awareness, and also of hope. I give a special shout out to my friends Jacqueline, Dawn and Millie, who have each lived over 25 years with HIV/AIDS and serve as national advocates for proper medical and social supports and prevention efforts. They are warriors who have chosen to live out loud and give voice and face to the epidemic. Their selflessness lights the way for others to walk in their truth and realize that HIV infection is not a death sentence. I am humbled to be a part of their journeys.
Life-saving treatments, advocacy and education have made the goal to end AIDS with zero new inflections, zero stigma and zero AIDS-related deaths within sight. By working together to eliminate the stigma and shame, educate our young people and empower those living with HIV/AIDS, we have a chance to end this epidemic once and for all.
/s/ Shawyn Patterson-Howard