While holding candles on the courthouse steps, a group of community members brought hope and light to a disease affecting millions worldwide.
The Sampson County HIV/AIDS Task Force hosted World AIDS Day Tuesday night. Held on Dec. 1 each year, the event is an opportunity for people to unite and show their support for people living with the disease and others who have died.
“Maybe one day, there will be an end to this,” said Thomas McLaughlin Jr., chairman of the task force, after singing “This Little Light of Mine” with the crowd. “But until then, we just have to trust God in everything that we do.”
As a 15-year survivor of the disease, McLaughlin continues to spread hope and awareness. He wants to serve as an example, showing people a way not to give up.
“You have to have a positive mind,” he said. “Once you’re diagnosed, you have to make up in your mind that death is not the end.”
He alluded to how infected people may receive treatment at medical clinics and support through groups such as the Sampson County HIV/AIDS Task Force. The group meets at noon on the first Monday of each, at the Sampson County Health Department, 360 Complex Road.
World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held in 1988. The local task force said there was a bigger turnout for the 2015 event, which also included support from Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Although one day is set aside to bring awareness to the disease, board member Nettie Wilson-Pernell believes attention should be placed on the disease year-round.
“There’s so many new advances going on now,” Wilson-Pernell said. “What we need to do is keep everybody educated about AIDS/HIV. There’s so many things for prevention and letting them know that they can live with HIV/AIDS. It’s not the death sentence that it was years ago.”
Guest speaker Courtney Boyette, a community relations specialists for Eastpointe Managed Care Organization in Lenoir and Sampson counties, added that such events give the public the opportunity to learn about the disease. While addressing the audience, she shared a story about a patient who was rejected by his family after coming forward about being infected.
“I feel that the more we talk about it and do things like this, we reduce the stigma and have opportunities for people to share and spread awareness about AIDS,” Boyette said following the event. “When people find out that they’re newly diagnosed, they’re not sure what to do or how to get their plan in place.”
Boyette said medical facilities can help with services such as medical and mental health, even if they don’t have insurance.
“Sometimes when our clients get to us, they have so many issues and they don’t know where to start,” Boyette said. “It’s just helping them organize everything.”
Juanita German and Barbara Faison, board members for the Task Force, said the organization was thankful to see everyone attend.
“We’re so thankful,” German said. “The Sampson County HIV/AIDS Task Force is dedicated to working with you and hopefully we’ll find a cure for this disease.”
McLaughlin hopes to see more people next year too, to help draw attention to the epidemic.
“Not only locally, but also worldwide,” McLaughlin said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.