More than 1,300 people who have been affected by acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) gathered at the National AIDS Memorial in San Francisco on Dec. 1 to commemorate World AIDS Day. During two days of events, family and friends paid tributes to those lost to the disease, while inspiring remembrance and conveying a message of hope for the future.
This year, the event saw special emphasis placed on the tragic legacy AIDS has left on the hemophilia community.
In collaboration with the HIV Story Project, the memorial published a series of personal video stories capturing the diversity of this epidemic with testimonies of survivors, this year focusing on the plight of the hemophilia community and the loss of life caused by a tainted blood supply, which led to the death of 50% of those who received it between 1980 and 2010.
The World AIDS Day event included an unprecedented panel discussion, which brought together leaders in the national hemophilia community to debate the need for featuring those infected by the blood contamination crisis at the memorial.
Jeanne White-Ginder, AIDS activist and mother of the late Ryan White, a young boy who received tainted blood, accepted the Thom Weyand Usung Hero award, on behalf of the national hemophilia community.
“We have to honor and respect those who went through this horrible, horrible epidemic,” said White-Ginder. “Too many people we loved were lost and the hemophilia community needs to come together to share our stories and communicate with one another the sadness and the sorrow, but also the joy that maybe nobody has to live with this again,” she said.
In the early 1990s, a small group of San Francisco residents, representing a community severely affected by the AIDS epidemic, started gathering in an abandoned grove in Golden Gate Park, restoring the area and creating a serene place where people who sought healing could gather to express their collective grief.
The founders of “The Grove” wanted to create a living memorial for all those affected by HIV/AIDS. Their efforts built a movement, which led to new legislation five years after they began, proposed by U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. President Bill Clinton later designated The Grove as the official national memorial for HIV/AIDS.
Now, 25 years later, about 25,000 volunteers have passed by the site, donating more than 150,000 hours of their time to help maintain the memorial, clear overgrowth, reintroduce native species and plant new trees, plants and shrubs.
“The Grove is a place of both remembrance and renewal with people coming from all over the world to remember those lost and look to the future,” Rep. Pelosi said in a press release. “Twenty-five years after this important designation, we still strive for a future in which we end stigma and discrimination, ensure continued research, care and resources, and, at long last, find a cure,” she said.
This year, World AIDS Day events included a “Light in the Grove” session, which illuminated The Grove to honor those who have passed away, as well as a candlelight reflection at the “Circle of Friends.” Special artistic performances were included in the event.
“As we gather in this beautiful meadow, we pay tribute to the lives lost to this pandemic,” said John Cunningham, National AIDS Memorial’s executive director. “It was within their struggle and the grief and pain that followed that the Grove was born 25 years ago. Today, we join together to honor their legacy and recognize some of the leaders who have made lasting impacts in the fight against AIDS.”
During the event, college students wanting to pursue their education while staying actively committed to fighting AIDS also were awarded scholarships, as part of the National AIDS Memorial Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship Award Program.
Below is a video with a tribute by friends of the Grove, in honor of World AIDS Day:
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