Starting a Conversation That Matters

Deutsch VP Discovers the Power, Responsibility of Communication and Awareness

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On May 16, I participated in AIDS Walk New York for the first time. I joined 45,000 other people in the largest fundraiser for the disease that affects an estimated 1.2 million people in the U.S alone. This was particularly important to me as I am one of them—diagnosed in 2007, on medication since 2009 and taking my story public by disclosing my status last December for World AIDS Days. I know firsthand the reality of being HIV positive and am learning every day the power and importance of the conversation—a conversation that still happens far less often than it should.

Modern medication allows me and so many others to live healthy and productive lives. This good fortune does not extend to everyone; the money raised this year and in years prior seeks to help those in need. But medicine is only part of the journey. The rest relies heavily on the communities in which we live, the people we work with, the friends we make to be prepared and willing to have thoughtful, productive conversations about HIV/AIDS.

Taking this responsibility to heart, and with the help of a few ambitious and thoughtful friends, I created a team called Impact Red. Our goal was to raise $25,000. What we accomplished was so much more.

With the help of friends from the advertising, media and communications industries, Impact Red surpassed its fundraising goal with a total of $36,600, placing its efforts in the top 10 of overall fundraising teams in the New York AIDS Walk this year. Those who supported me alone donated an astonishing $12,200.

Beyond the money, the conversation was heard and new ones were happening. The Impact Red Facebook group was started and is going strong with more than 400 members. This collective voice inspired seven companies to donate services and products for the Impact Red cocktail party on May 13. The event brought out nearly 175 people who had donated $40 each to attend, and an additional $8,000 was raised in raffle prizes.

But the most meaningful, most important impact was the one few people got to see. The efforts of Impact Red inspired eight individuals to reach out directly to disclose their status, ask questions and seek answers—a true testament to the need of a voice, support and conversations around this still very real disease. Those conversations were grounded in the amazing generosity of those who supported our efforts. Nearly half the money raised came from people working in the advertising and publishing industries, a majority from Deutsch.

Efforts of generosity like this should not go unnoticed. They're important because they put a face with dollars, link personalities outside the infection to the disease, redefine the stereotypes so often connected to this virus. These efforts create conversations, challenge perceptions and are fundamental to humanity. Without them, we all suffer no matter what disease you might have.

My diagnosis was the saddest day of my life. Since then, I have eagerly been looking for the meaning, the answers and that silver lining that everyone talks about. For the first time, through the work of each team member and every donor and all those who walked on May 16, I saw glimmer of the silver lining I thought didn't exist.

I don't expect to change the world, find a cure or even raise the most money—I do think small efforts to raise awareness can make a difference. My plan is to continue Impact Red's efforts to raise awareness through conversation. In the next year, we hope to have several key events to do just that, create a website that provides resources, encourages outreach and, hopefully, leads to prevention until a cure is found.

Never in my life have I felt more passionate about one issue, something so important—and something so destructive to mind, body and spirit. The conversations we have today, tomorrow and in the years to come can change the lives of others. This is a responsibility I simply won't ignore.

Tyler Helms is VP-account director at Deutsch, New York.
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