Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Los Angeles AIDS WALK

My first exposure to HIV/AIDS was when I lived in downtown New York City with my friend Fidel, more than a decade ago. His brother had been HIV positive for quite a long time. I’m not exactly sure for how long. Fidel came from a family of four boys.

Fidel was my best friend at the time. We watched his little brother die, together. I’ll never forget the day of the funeral. It was so unbelievably sad. I can still remember the look on his mother’s face – it broke my heart. Fidel’s mother died within the week of a heart attack. My thoughts at the time were: watching her son die – quite literally – broke her heart.

This is the reason that participating in the Los Angeles AIDS Walk was so special to me.

And this is how it all happened. I was hanging out in a great little coffee shop out here on Pico Street called UnUrban. I picked up LA Weekly and I saw an ad for the The Los Angeles Aids Walk. The next morning I went in to work and suggested to my team that we cover it.

I work with such wonderful guys (and a gal.) Tony Kucenski is my Executive Producer (read “my better half”). Joe Doughrity is my writer/field producer – his energy is infectious! Lance is my editor (he’s actually known as “Crabby” because his last name is Crabtree, which is ironic because he is the least grumpy person I have ever met!). Kirstin Gundersen is my graphic artist, she’s quite simply a doll. Jason is my webmaster, also a super sweet doll. Dave Freeman is my lead editor and perhaps the most laid back man I have ever met (he has to be, he deals with me on a daily basis! … read nightmare.)

So everyone was game to cover the event! Not to sound too cliché, but it was an amazing experience. Simply the fact that there was so much joy – and so much hope – at an event celebrating a disease riddled with so much sadness.

It gave me hope.

So don’t forget to check out the three-part series that is up on the Web right now, at either, or

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Gala!

Finally the cab pulled up outside of the Virginia Beach Convention Center (“Virginia is For Lover’s,” I later learned, through many a bumper sticker.)

I pushed through the revolving doors and there was this wonderful moment when I set my sights on the Chief Executive Officer of Physicians for Peace – Retired Brigadier General Ron Sconyers. It almost felt as if we hadn’t been apart for a couple of months because the KBTV Productions team had just cut a five-part series profiling Mr. Sconyers’ work at PFP. You have to understand that this is a gentleman with whom I had accompanied on two separate missions – one in Nigeria and one in Guatemala. We have also spent countless hours on the phone discussing everything from fact checking KBTV episodes and Blogs to the birthday party for his twins. Something happens on these missions – you become very close, very quickly. This is why the Gala was so special for me – because I got to see my old pals, Dr. Margie, Nurse Evan and Nurse Francis, Jaya, Mary – and that’s just to name a few. It almost felt like a family reunion.

It was the Physicians for Peace annual “Celebrate the Nations” Gala. The evening started out with a VIP reception where guests from many countries who are involved in the work of PFP were able to meet and mingle. Among the distinguished attendees was Senator Bill Frist, M.D., this year’s recipient of the Charles E. Horton Humanitarian Award for Global Health; as well as The Honorable Abdoulaye Diop, Ambassador from Mali; Domingo Nolasco, Minister and Consul General of the Philippines; and Myra Obendorf, Mayor of Virginia Beach. Also during the reception, PFP gave special recognition to Hampton Roads area hospitals for their support of PFP’s mission work.

Then the evening got under way, and we all enjoyed an exquisite, Latin-inspired meal and mariachi serenade. The program, hosted by Kathryn Barrett of WVEC-TV, included the first annual Volunteer of the Year Awards, as well as a performance by Latin Ballet of Virginia. PFP Board Member Morgan Davis captivated the crowd with his charm as our very own auctioneer while raising money for our cause. An inspiring speech was given by Former Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, M.D., a leader in the quest for sustainable healthcare solutions for the developing world.

I’ll also mention that I was awarded the “President’s Award” for raising awareness for PFP’s causes through writing and video. It was an amazing feeling!

I want to thank Liz, Court and Dave for accompanying and supporting me at the Gala. And I want to thank Ron and everyone else at Physicians for Peace for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of their family.