On Thursday evening, October 9, 2003, in Washington, D.C., the Africare Bishop Walker Dinner-the largest annuual fundraiser for Africa in the United States-honored the people on the front lines of the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa and worldwide, while drawing attention to the successes and challenges of the AIDS crisis. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson emphasized the urgency in the struggle against HIV/AIDS in the keynote address he delivered at the Dinner: There are 6,500 individuals dying every day in Africa [from AIDS], but the worst thing is that 8,500 more are coming down with this terrible disease. This isn't a war, this is an emergency...and every single one of us in this room has got to stand up and take on this fight.
At the Dinner, this year's Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award (named for the late John T. Walker, the first African-American Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C.) was presented to Bill and Melinda Gates, Co-Founders of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for outstanding work in the arena of global health, including the African HIV/AIDS crisis; for raising public awareness of global health issues as well as other issues of importance, both in the United States and abroad; and for encouraging, by example, activist philanthropy for a new generation and a new millennium. Secretary Thompson called Mr. and Mrs. Gates "examples for the world" because "they give of their time, their money, their resources, and their hearts."
Mr. and Mrs. Gates delivered their acceptance of the award via videotape, and Mr. Bill Gates, Sr., father and father-in-law of the award recipients and Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, received the award on their behalf. "Bill and Melinda believe with their hearts and souls that every human life has equal worth," noted Mr. Gates in his acceptance speech. "That's the founding ideal of our philanthropy." This belief in equity and respect for all human life has been the catalyst for the Gates Foundation's work in global health. "We believe that the world's greatest inequity that does the gravest damage is the inequity in global health care," Mr. Gates stated. "Poorer health aggravates poverty, poverty deepens disease, and families trapped in that spiral can never escape unless we help."
In his remarks, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist also voiced the need to fight HIV/AIDS because of basic reasons of human worth. "We gather together to fight this little virus for a moral reason," Senator Frist emphasized. "It's based on the dignity inherent in each one of us as individual human beings and that overall oneness of humanity...as a people of this country, and as a people of this world." Noting the work that the current U.S. administration has pledged to do to fight the worldwide AIDS crisis, Senator Frist expressed optimism. "I am confident, as a physician and as a scientist and probably equally so as a United States Senator, that we will defeat this most daunting moral, public health, and humanitarian challenge of the last 100 years."
The Bishop Walker Dinner was attended by nearly 2,000 people, with representation from corporations, government, the nonprofit sector, and many individuals. The 2003 Dinner will raise over $1 million for Africare's mission of assistance to Africa. The Africare Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner is Africare's major benefit event and has been held in Washington, D.C. every fall since 1990.
This year's Bishop Walker Dinner was headed by National Honorary Patron, the Honorable Jimmy Carter; International Honorary Patrons, the chairmen of Africa's major regional organizations: the African Union (President Chissano of Mozambique), CEMAC (President Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo), COMESA (President al-Bashir of Sudan), ECOWAS (President Kufuor of Ghana), and SADC (President Mkapa of Tanzania); National Chair, the Honorable Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., Founder and President Emeritus, Morehouse School of Medicine, and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services; and General Chairs, the Honorable Jack Kemp, Co-Director, Empower America, and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; and the Honorable Rodney Slater, Partner, Patton Boggs LLP, and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Maria Walker, wife of the late Bishop Walker, served as Honorary Chair.
Other key participants in the event included Maureen Bunyan, Anchor, WJLA-TV, as Mistress of Ceremonies; the Honorable George A. Dalley, Esq., Chairman of the Africare Board of Directors; and Julius E. Coles, President of Africare. Also featured in the program was a musical performance by the internationally renowned Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour; and remarks by the Honorable David Satcher, M.D., former U.S. Surgeon General and Director, National Center for Primary Care, Morehouse School of Medicine; the Honorable Barbara Lee, U.S. Representative (California), member of the House Subcommittee on Africa, and HIV/AIDS activist; and the Honorable Ronald V. Dellums, Former Chairman, Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, and former Congressman, California.