Throughout the month of February, the National AIDS Memorial marks Black History Month and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with featured online programming honoring Black lives touched by AIDS. A special selection of stories is being featured as part of a virtual exhibition of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the virtual presentation of engraved names in the National AIDS Memorial Grove.
The special programming, available for free to the public by visiting www.aidsmemorial.org uses the power and beauty of the Quilt and Grove to bring to light the countless Black men, women and children who have died of AIDS during 40 years of the pandemic, and the continuing impact of HIV in the Black community today.
“Our hope is that these online programs help raise greater awareness about the ongoing struggle with HIV and the impact systemic barriers have on positive health outcomes, particularly in the Black community,” said CEO John Cunningham. “This collection of powerful stories are part of the hope, healing and remembrance these two national treasures – the Grove and the Quilt – bring to our nation throughout the year.”
In the 40-plus years since the first cases of HIV/AIDS were reported, Black Americans and communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. In 1993, HIV was the leading cause of death for Black men between ages 25-44. By 2004, HIV became the leading cause of death for Black women in the same age group. In 2019, Black Americans made up 42 percent of the nearly 38,000 new HIV diagnoses in the United States, with half of those living in southern states.
While today, Black people account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses and people living with HIV compared to other races and ethnicities, progress has been made, with HIV diagnoses decreasing eight percent among African American people overall from 2015 to 2019. However, racism, HIV stigma, homophobia, poverty, and barriers to health care continue to drive disparities.
The Virtual Exhibition of the Quilt features touching stories that include letters, news stories and photos about Quilt panels made to honor Black men, women and children, who died and are forever remembered through the Quilt. Viewers can see a panel made for 2-year-old Alexandria that shows her photo, a teddy bear, Big Bird, and a poem written by her mother Charlene on Block 2542. Another shares the panel of Belynda, a Massachusetts AIDS activist who dedicated herself to helping organize Black churches in the fight against AIDS on Block 5718. Other panels include those honoring Black men, including several that have military uniforms sewn into them to honor their service on Block 5976.
The Stories from the Grove features touching stories of Black lives remembered in the National AIDS Memorial Grove, whose names are engraved in the beautiful 10-acre space in San Francisco. Tributes include proudly gay musical legend Sylvester, AIDS activists Reggie Williams and Ken Jones, poet Mary Bowman, reality TV personality and activist Sean Sasser, Hemophilia leader Val Bias, and Lonnie Payne, a long-term survivor and Board member of the National AIDS Memorial, who shares the loss of his twin brother Lawrence to AIDS. Each story includes photos, narratives, and videos.