AIDS Walk Atlanta nears $850,000 raised for nonprofits

“This is the first time I’ve seen it. It’s heart wrenching,” said Judy Webster, tearing up. “You hear about it, until you see it … it’s just very emotional. So, so many people.”

“So many lives,” her son Tyler added.

“But they’re so beautiful,” Judy Webster said of the panels making up the quilt. “Every one of them is a reflection of that person.”

Scott James Webster was born in 1963 and died in 1992. His mother, Leslie Webster of Atlanta, made the quilt for him when he died.

“He died 18 years ago this December. He was only 29,” Leslie Webster said standing over the panel.

Tyler Webster, her oldest grandson attending his first AIDS Walk with his mother, is named for his uncle even though he never met him, she added.

“He’s named after his uncle Scott — Tyler Scott — and I have another nephew who’s named Jack Scott. He’s missed every day,” she said.

Leslie Webster is the mother-in-law of Judy Webster.

Leslie Webster said this was her 12th AIDS Walk, and since the AIDS Memorial Quilt moved from San Francisco to Atlanta, she’s requested his panel be part of the walk each year.

“It’s like I get to visit him. I know he’s not here. But we made this panel. My sister and I and his two friends,” she said.

The panel includes cowboy boots because Scott James Webster lived in Nashville and loved country music. He worked at JCPenney and Ruby Tuesday but also made demos of songs, such as “Desperado” as well as Patsy Cline hits. His mother says she still has those demos so she can listen to him.

“He’s loved, still loved and missed every day. He loved yellow roses and I bring them every year,” she said of the bouquet lying on the panel with the message, “To Scott, We love you and miss you more and more each and every day. Your loving family.”

Rick Hutchison, 60, who works for Positive Impact, said he was drawn to the panel because of the dates.

“When I told my friend about this panel, there’s the family right here. Can you believe that?” he said.

Hutchison said he’s been HIV positive for 23 years and nearly died but a stint in prison helped him survive and find himself.

“I thank God for being here to live through the others. I honestly believe when we have the disease we live a tribute to those who went down,” he said.

“Some people have Veteran’s Day, this is our day. When we see this quilt, it’s like a magnetic energy. The spiritual journey lives through this experience,” he added. “These are fallen soldiers.”

After sharing their stories for a few minutes, the group hugged each other and promised to see each other next year.

Funds to fight HIV

Tracy Elliott, executive director of AID Atlanta, the sponsoring agency of the annual walk, spoke before the walk began and said the entire reason for the walk is because “every life deserves hope.”

He said some 8,000 people registered as walkers this year and the hope was to raise $900,000 for 10 beneficiary organizations including AID Atlanta. This week, Elliott said the walk appears to have fallen just shy of that goal and donations are still being accepted.

“We are anticipating ending the walk campaign at $850,000. We are still collecting pledges, matching gifts, and will continue the Every Life Deserves Hope campaign until the end of the year,” he said.

Since the walk began 20 years ago, 500,000 people have been helped by the money raised at AIDS Walk Atlanta, he added.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta) also spoke at the walk, saying he was urging Congress to continue Ryan White funding to benefit AIDS service organizations that help people with HIV/AIDS, as well as those affected by the disease.

“We never, ever walk alone,” Lewis said. “We must never, ever give up. We must never, ever give in, or give out. We must keep walking, keep running. We will one day make the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia and the world free of AIDS and HIV. We will overcome.”


Top photo: The Webster family, from left, Tyler, Judy and (second from right) Leslie, look over the panel of Leslie’s son, Scott James Webster, with new friends at the 20th annual AIDS Walk Atlanta (by Dyana Bagby)