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Posted by The Charlotte Post on Monday, March 7, 2016

Life and Religion

AIDS Walk Charlotte: Many lives, one road
Singer Tarsha' Hamilton, wife of Anthony Hamilton, to deliver keynote speech
 
Published Thursday, April 25, 2013
by Michaela L. Duckett

The 17th annual AIDS Walk Charlotte will be held May 4. The walk is the largest HIV awareness and fundraising event in the Carolinas.

clientuploads/v38n13photos/Tarsha_Hamilton_300.jpg
PHOTO COURTESY OF TARSHA' HAMILTON
Tarsha' Hamilton, singer and wife of Grammy-winner Anthony Hamilton, lost three members of her immediate family to AIDS and believes in advocating for children infected with or affected by the disease.

Close to 3,000 people will walk 2 miles through Fourth Ward in memory of those who have died from the disease, as advocates for those infected and as beacons of light for those at risk in the hopes of helping to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

 AIDS Walk Charlotte supports Regional AIDS Interfaith Network, one of the largest HIV nonprofits in the Carolinas providing direct client services. RAIN is widely recognized for its expertise in working with persons living with HIV and AIDS and volunteers within the faith community.

 “For me, the AIDS Walk is a movement, not a moment,” said Nathan Smith, director of development and marketing for RAIN and co-chair of the AIDS walk planning committee. “It’s about bringing the community together, having a discussion and really breaking down the stigma that is attached to HIV/AIDS.”

 The keynote speaker for this year’s event will be Tarsha’ Hamilton, singer and wife of Grammy-award winner Anthony Hamilton.

Tarsha’ Hamilton knows all too well about the stigma attached to AIDS. She’s lost three members of her immediate family to the disease. The first was her father, Harry McMillian, who died when she was 15 years old.

She had no idea her father had AIDS until after his death. One day, her mother, Belinda McMillian, sat her down along with her siblings and delivered the news.

“She told us that our father had actually died of AIDS and that she was now infected with HIV,” recalls Hamilton. “It totally devastated us.”

For years, the family lived in shame and secrecy.

“We were told not to speak about it,” said Hamilton. “We were a family that was in church more than one time a week so I think she didn’t want us to be alienated from everybody because people were still really ignorant about the disease.”

Two years after her father passed, Hamilton’s mother died. Hamilton said her brother, Michael, became wild and careless.

“We weren’t able to talk about it,” she said. “So that was the way he vented. He didn’t care about life and he ended up infected as well because he didn’t protect himself. It just repeated the cycle.”

Michael found out he was HIV-positive a year after their mother died. He was only 18 years old. Eight years later, he died.

Like their father and mother, Hamilton’s brother also kept his status a secret, and his closest friends and some family members had no idea he was infected until his death.

“That changed their outlook on HIV/AIDS because they loved a man who had the disease,” said Hamilton. “They hugged him. They kissed him. They held hands with him, prayed with him, partied and cried with him. I think that really opened their eyes because he was ‘normal.’”

Hamilton said she hopes sharing her story will help others.

“Now it’s just me and my sister,” she said, “We are not HIV-infected but we have been heavily affected by the disease so every time I get an opportunity to promote educating people or just sharing my story I jump at the opportunity.”

She said she also wants to help remove the stigma and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS in the hopes that families will not live in shame and condemnation as her family once did.

“I want it to be where people can wear their ribbons proudly and say I am a survivor,” she said.  “Whether they have been affected by AIDS as I have or they are infected with the virus, everyday I want them to be able to wear the big red ribbon on their chest in the same way that cancer survivors do.”

 For more information about AIDS Walk Charlotte or to register for the event, visit www.aidswalkcharlotte.org.

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