South Mississippi Commemorates World AIDS Day

One light at a time, people gathered at the St. Mark United Methodist Church in Gulfport hoping to shed light on a world-wide epidemic.

Pastor Zachary Beasley has been personally touched by the disease. His brother died from AIDS.

"We dealt with it for some 7 years and knowing at some point we would be without my brother.  It really brings you home, but I hope a lot of people will not have to get to that point, to the point that unless it's affecting them directly they don't have to be involved."

The South Mississippi AIDS Task Force says getting involved through partnerships is the best way to make a difference. The Power of Partnerships Together Until There is a Cure, the theme for the SMATF's World AIDS Day commemoration.

"Partnerships are the only way we can eradicate anything or educate anyone," says Amanda Breckenridge, South Mississippi AIDS Task Force, Executive Director.

Paul Overstreet was diagnosed with AIDS in 1998. He started working with SMATF shortly after he was diagnosed.

"They can always come and learn how to live longer, and that's what we try to tell them.  It's not a death sentence, but it is a sentence of sickness."

But Overstreet, like others who shared their experiences say with advances in medicine and support from family, friends and community groups there is a reason to live.

"Look at me.  I'm still a living, breathing person.  Three years ago, they told me I was not going to live three days.  I look good for a dead man."

Those who gathered here say they will continue to let their light shine by sharing messages of hope and committing to the power of partnerships until there is a cure.

The Mississippi Department of Health says more than 8,500 men, women and children live with HIV in Mississippi. Statewide, Harrison County has the third highest number of AIDS cases of any other county.

For more information on HIV/AIDS and testing, call the South Mississippi AIDS Task Force at 228-385-1214.