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Baltimore's Washington Monument glows red for World AIDS Day

A small service and a moment of silence under a glowing-red Washington Monument commemorated World AIDS Day in Mount Vernon Sunday evening.

The Rev. Joseph Muth of St. Matthew Catholic Church on Loch Raven Boulevard told the roughly two dozen gathered in Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church before the monument lighting that the city's goal is to "get to zero."

"When we were in school, zero was a failure," Muth said. "Now we're in a different school."

He looks forward, he said, to the day when the city can report "zero new infected, zero deaths and zero discrimination of those who are infected" with HIV/AIDS. Muth said the city needs to continue to be attentive to and communicate with its residents to stamp out the disease.

"It's still a struggle for people in this community," he said. "We need to get the word out that it's a terrible disease to the people of Baltimore."

Muth, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and others referred to Baltimore's striking AIDS statistics: The city is consistently in the top 10 in the U.S. for those infected with the disease, a number estimated to be around 14,000.

One in nine black men in Baltimore have the disease, Rawlings-Blake said, a number she said will change with the city's continued efforts to test and diagnose early so people can get the treatments they need.

Speaking from the church's lectern, Rawlings-Blake said she was proud to have put the city health department's get-tested campaign posters — which read: "Have balls. Get tested" and were rejected by the Maryland Transit Authority as being too risque — on the Charm City Circulator buses. She and others spoke to the importance of increasing awareness and ending the stigma surrounding the disease.

The mayor also read a proclamation making Sunday World AIDS Day in Baltimore before the group came outside for the moment of silence under the monument.

The Rev. Craig Moore, the pastor at the Mount Vernon Place church, said he was happy to host the ceremony. He said putting an end to HIV/AIDS "is important to many in our congregation," which he estimated to number around 85 on Sundays, though the church seats around 900.

The day is "a bittersweet holiday celebration" for Stephanie Brooks-Wiggins, of Older Women Embracing Life.

"It makes me think of all the people who have died with this disease," Brooks-Wiggins said. But, she added, it's also a reminder of the many still fighting.

She pleaded for young people to be safe in their relationships. "To the elderly," she said, "if you've lived this long, don't blow it." And Brooks-Wiggins' message to the community was a much broader one.

"We can't afford to be apathetic," she said. "None of us can be excluded from this fight. We are all the face of HIV. All of us as a city need to come together and get involved."

World AIDS Day is the first and lesser-known of the two monument lightings the mayor will host this week. The other features strings of lights and fireworks to celebrate the start of the holiday season on Thursday night. Festivities will start around 6 p.m. and the lights go on around 7:45.

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