RALEIGH - Twelve individuals and organizations that have worked to combat the AIDS virus in North Carolina were honored with the Governor's World AIDS Day Volunteer Service Award on Tuesday night at N.C. State University.
Hundreds of people gathered for the awards ceremony, which was preceded by a banquet at which international AIDS activist and anti-apartheid leader Leon Howard Sullivan spoke.
Sullivan encouraged the audience to take an active role in eradicating poverty as a way to minimize the spread of the AIDS virus.
He acknowledged award recipients' efforts but stressed the importance of expanding the fight against poverty and AIDS to Africa.
The awards ceremony was held this week in honor of World AIDS Day on Friday.
"By my presence here, I hope you recognize the importance of the work you are doing in North Carolina," Sullivan told the audience, saying he had turned down two other engagements in New York and Germany to speak at the banquet.
Despite the thriving U.S. economy, Sullivan said it is important not to forget the poor because poverty remains a constant problem in the United States.
The ceremony was sponsored in part by Opportunities Industrialization Centers, a group Sullivan founded that trains people in the United States, Africa and Europe to combat poverty worldwide.
A. Dennis McBride, acting director of the N.C. Division of Public Health, stressed the impact poverty has on the spread of AIDS. "Poverty and apathy are the issues," he said. "HIV and AIDS is but a manifestation of those issues."
Sullivan also emphasized the importance of equal opportunities and rights for all. "We need to see the doors across America open that have been closed."
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators watched the awards ceremony via video. The caucus is meeting this week in Charlotte to discuss issues facing the black community.
Sullivan called on legislators nationwide to work to increase equality for all people, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status.
Amid a standing ovation and thunderous applause, he called upon all black Americans to also make an investment in the future of Africa.
"Every other nationality helps those where they came from, except African Americans," Sullivan said.
He also chided presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush for their lack of attention to combatting poverty.
"Neither presidential candidate had a semblance of a plan to help the poor," Sullivan said.
But McBride said he hoped the ceremony would spur action to fight AIDS and poverty.
"If it ends here tonight, we haven't done our job," McBride said. "We must leave here inspired to make a change."
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