Red light flooded Pauley Pavilion early Sunday as hundreds of dancers raised glow sticks in the air for a vigil honoring people living with HIV.
Students participated in a moment of silence and used the glow sticks to recognize women living in sub-Saharan Africa with HIV and AIDS at the Dance Marathon vigil, which began at 3:45 a.m. Several speakers, including the founder of the Kindle Project and Pedriatric AIDS Coalition at UCLA youth ambassadors, also shared their stories with the Dance Marathon crowd.
Ryan Eason, a fourth-year English and communication studies student and the director of cause for PAC, opened the vigil by speaking about the effects of HIV and AIDS and the importance of raising money and awareness to help end the epidemic.
“In 20 years, Dance Marathon will not have to exist,” Eason said.
Rebecca Denison, mother of a PAC member, spoke about her experience living with HIV and why she thinks Dance Marathon is important.
Denison unexpectedly learned she was HIV positive after she accompanied her friend, whose sister was dying from AIDS, to get tested. She said she thought she only had six months to live and that she would never be able to have children.
However, Denison married, had two daughters and found a strong support system among other HIV-positive women, she said. She emphasized the value of Dance Marathon and said she hopes the participants will take what they learned from the experience into the real world.
“At this point you might be asking yourself, ‘Why are we doing this? Why am I doing this?’” Denison said. “You’re doing this because what you’re doing truly matters.”
Eason returned to the stage after a few speakers and instructed participants to raise their glow sticks in the air to represent all of the HIV-positive women living in sub-Saharan Africa. He began to ask the dancers to lower their glow sticks in two or three groups at a time.
Each group that lowered their glow sticks represented a group of women who suffered or died from HIV for reasons such as inadequate health care, stigma or being unaware of their illness. Eason concluded by saying that only 1 percent of HIV-positive women in sub-Saharan Africa have the resources to manage their illness and prevent transmitting it to their children.
Organizers concluded the vigil by inviting PAC ambassadors, children and teenagers who are living with AIDS or HIV to the Dance Marathon stage. Each person took turns to share their story of living with HIV.
“Thinking back, even though it was sometimes so hard … I wouldn’t change because HIV is a part of who I am,” one child said.