You Are the Heart, Soul and Feet of this Movement

These remarks were given at the 2024 Opening Reception for AIDSWatch 2024,  presented by the US  People Living with HIV Caucus (the Caucus.). Remarks were slightly modified for the reader’s pleasure. 
Welcome – Good evening! I’m Jesse Milan, CEO at AIDS United, and it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this year’s AIDSWatch!
We’re thrilled to welcome back many of you who have been attending AIDSWatch for years, and we extend a warm welcome to our first-time AIDSWatch advocates! Welcome! We’re delighted you’ve come to DC to engage directly with Congress. That’s the essence of AIDSWatch. We have an amazing agenda planned, and we’ve already commenced sessions this afternoon. Tomorrow promises a full day of inspiration, education, and alignment on the policies and issues we will advocate for with Congress. Then, on Tuesday, we head straight to the Hill to share our stories and articulate our needs, expectations, and hopes for ending this epidemic.
We celebrate this year’s theme tonight – “We’re in this together.”
Together, we are effecting change in our local communities across the country. Together, we are a potent force in ending the HIV epidemic. Together with our champions in Congress, we will strive to secure support for policies and funding necessary to halt new HIV transmissions and preventable deaths, as well as to combat stigma, discrimination, and criminalization. Each year at AIDSWatch, we achieve this by educating and engaging Congress to ensure that all of people living with and vulnerable to HIV can lead long and healthy lives.
Tonight, we particularly celebrate people living with HIV who have been at the forefront of this fight. The U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus convenes this opening reception to elevate the needs and leadership of people living with HIV, like you and me.
For over 40 years, we have upheld the Denver Principles, advocating that nothing about us should be decided for us without us. Meaningful involvement of people living with and vulnerable to HIV is integral to our work at AIDS United. We incorporate it into our grantmaking, capacity building, and especially into our policy and advocacy efforts, making AIDSWatch the foremost example of meaningful involvement in advocacy.
Yet AIDSWatch would be meaningless without you. You are the heart, soul, arms, and feet of this movement. We couldn’t organize AIDSWatch without our partners and sponsors, so we extend special thanks to our sponsors—Gilead Sciences, Merck, and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation—for making AIDSWatch 2024, possible. 
We recognize that our work can only succeed if we intentionally include the full diversity of our community. This year, we are particularly excited to advance language justice. Through our Café Con Pan session at AIDSWatch, we prioritize building a vibrant community and fostering meaningful connections across languages. Café Con Pan will be conducted in Spanish, with English translation available. It offers a space for rest, wellness, and engaging conversations with leading community members, blending community-building, cultural exploration, and wellness activities. We hope it provides a memorable and inclusive experience. You’re welcome to join me tomorrow at Café Con Pan with fellow advocates who speak Spanish. It’s a living testament to our collective journey.
So, welcome to AIDSWatch. Thank you for being here.
Jesse Milan Jr. giving his opening remarks at AIDSWatch 2024.
Image by Denis Largeron, AIDSWatch 2023