This is a celebratory issue. Paired up with our annual New Restaurant Guide & Preview, we’re also highlighting 20 restaurant picks from this 20th anniversary of the Dining Out for Life program in Minnesota, benefiting The Aliveness Project. Congratulations to everyone who has made this program happen year after year—it’s quite an achievement.
With the way history has been developing at a breakneck speed lately, 20 years was a very long time ago. But, when we’re talking about HIV and AIDS, it’s better to let time slow itself down for the people living with it, as long as we keep the development of ways to fight and treat it at full-bore. A diagnosis of HIV and/or AIDS was once considered an undeniable—and somewhat immediate—death sentence, but now we’re seeing people live longer with a higher quality of life, thanks to reliable diagnoses, medical and therapeutic treatments, and programs to assist them as well as their families and friends.
My early memories of seeing the topics of HIV and AIDS in my young life are from around 24 years ago, when I was 13 years old and living in rural Minnesota. Elton John elevated our awareness with his compassion and involvement in the plight of Ryan White, a young man who contracted HIV via blood transfusion as part of his treatment for hemophilia, who died on April 8, 1990, at the age of 18. Then, I saw the movie And the Band Played On which was produced and aired on HBO in 1993, just over 20 years ago. Somehow, out in rural Cokato where nobody had HIV or AIDS (to our knowledge), we saw the movie on PBS or broadcast television (since we didn’t have cable) and taped it on a VHS to watch and rewatch for years to come. Because of our relative isolation from the issue in our rural area, the film was a shocking and admirable piece of work that formed me in how I view large- and small-scale fear and confusion as well as politics, power, and celebrity. I’m still thankful that my parents knew the value of such a film and allowed me to learn from the mature subjects covered in it.
And the Band Played On was written by Randy Shilts and published in 1987 as a book full of investigative journalism, a chronicle of the time between the late 1970s through 1985, the time during which HIV and AIDS were discovered and the political problems and indifference that ensued, largely because it was perceived to be a gay issue. The book was adapted to be a film that was directed by Robert Spottiswoode and was similar to Robert Altman films of the early ‘90s that tended to be chock full of popular contemporary celebrities of the era. But, in this case, rather than as somewhat gratuitous Altman-style cameos, the star power in And the Band Played On was focusing a light on the mishandling and misunderstandings surrounding the early years of HIV and AIDS in the United States. The cast included Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, Phil Collins, Richard Gere, Glenne Headly, Anjelica Huston, Swoosie Kurtz, Steve Martin, Ian McKellen, Saul Rubinek, Lily Tomlin, BD Wong, and so many other actors who gave their names, talent, and attention to this film. They played people who were infected, people who loved people who were infected, people who feared they were a part of the infection, and people who were responsible for figuring out what the infection actually was, how it could be diagnosed, and how it could be treated. The roles that weren’t generally played by celebrities were those of President Reagan and other politicians who were blocking funding and impeding awareness, to say the least. What these celebrities did for the film was give faces to the fear; they gave a greater incentive for the viewers to have more interest in seeing the piece; they diffused and decreased the stigma attached to people with HIV and AIDS; and they put high-profile pressure on making sure HIV and AIDS stay at the fore of our collective concern for the well-being of people in our country and around the globe.
The power of celebrity is still so very important to the social issues of our lives. International celebrities like Elton John and Sir Ian McKellen stuck their necks out for these issues over 20 years ago. Globally—and nationally—stigma has decreased and awareness has increased for people who have HIV and AIDS, thanks to the celebrities like them who use their influence to help the campaign. Locally, we have a similar campaign that has been gaining momentum through Dining Out for Life for the past 20 years as well, gaining in its reach and fundraising efficacy with each passing year. In recent history, Dining Out for Life has gone from being fronted solely by local celebrity, Sven Sundgaard, of KARE 11, to also including Rena Sarigianopoulos for the past two years and now Blake McCoy this year as well, also of KARE 11. On behalf of Lavender, I added another KARE 11 mainstay, Pat Evans, and multi-platform food expert, Joy Summers, to the mix and suddenly we’ve got as many celebrities as our cover can handle.
And what a cover it is. With five wonderful people and their own circles of influence, Dining Out for Life can continue its work to raise awareness and do good for people living with HIV and AIDS. In addition to the people fronting the campaign, the list of participating restaurants is long and varied, with a number of them upping the percentage they donate to The Aliveness Project each year, it seems. Reservations are being made and filling up seats across the Metro Area, people are signing up to tell people about the work of The Aliveness Project at all the meals at each participating restaurant, and the town will be painted red, black, and white on April 24.
There aren’t any restaurants participating in Dining Out for Life in my rural hometown. But, the fact that Sven, Rena, Blake, Pat, and Joy are spreading the word about the event as far as their broadcasts, tweets, Facebook posts, and words can reach means that a 13-year old kid in my hometown can learn about Dining Out for Life, The Aliveness Project, and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment anyway.
It’s a use of celebrity to celebrate.
See you on the 24th,