A record-setting crowd of more than 26,000 walkers--including a sizable contingent from Cal State Northridge--converged on Hollywood Sunday for the 13th annual AIDS Walk Los Angeles, which raised at least $3 million to fund AIDS services and educational programs.
Young and old, fit, flabby or somewhere in between, the walkers flooded Paramount Studios for an opening ceremony featuring celebrity guests that included entertainers Nathan Lane, David Hyde Pierce, Christine Baranski and Jamie Lee Curtis, who brought along her daughter and 20 of her daughter's friends.
"I always try and look at this as a very happy and positive day," Curtis shouted to the crowd.
The event's originator, Craig Miller, roused the walkers by reminding them that they were not only fund-raisers and volunteers, but messengers spreading the word.
"We are here this morning because we know an epidemic is not over if we're still losing so many people," Miller said.
Moments later, the crowd began winding its way along a 10-kilometer course down some of Hollywood's most famous streets. Participants walked, jogged and skated beneath a scorching sun.
The walkers were cheered on by a colorful trio who stood on the bed of an oversize truck parked along Melrose Avenue and shouted, "Throw your hands in the air!" and "Shake your booty!" as techno music blasted from a stereo. Amid the festivities, some of the walkers reflected on what had drawn them to the event.
"I think there's a lot of prejudice against people with AIDS and people who live alternative lifestyles," said Moji Rooney, a college student and mother of four from Placentia. "We should lend a hand and show that we care. If we all do a little, together we can do a lot."
In addition to attracting more than 700 corporate teams this year, the event drew numerous elected officials, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and City Councilmen Mike Feuer and Joel Wachs.
Among the participants were hundreds of students, faculty members and administrators from Cal State Northridge, which registered 1,252 walkers, said CSUN team leader Amy Reichbach. CSUN assembled the largest university team in the event's history last year, with 650 registered walkers.
To ensure a large Northridge contingent, Reichbach said AIDS Walk organizers worked with CSUN officials in setting the date of this year's event so sorority and fraternity members could participate. More than 500 people gathered at 7 a.m. in a CSUN parking lot, where they boarded eight yellow buses that whisked them to Hollywood.
CSUN President Blenda Wilson, who described the walk as a chance for the CSUN community to contribute to finding a cure for a devastating disease, led the pack down Melrose. For many of the students, this was the first time they participated.
"I feel emotional because I'm doing something for a worthy cause," said Laura Delgado, a 22-year-old CSUN senior.
"It feels good spiritually, mentally and physically," added Marcela Moreno, a 19-year-old humanities major.
When it began in 1985, AIDS Walk Los Angeles attracted 4,500 participants in the first event of its kind in the country. Over the years, the walk has evolved into an annual opportunity for thousands of people to unite in the fight against HIV or to remember a loved one who died of AIDS.
The latter was the case for 19-year-old Sara Chapin of Lancaster, who wore a T-shirt decorated with a picture of her brother, Scott Petty, who was lost to the disease in January.
"I really wanted to support the fight against AIDS and come out today in memory of my brother," she said.