In observance of World AIDS Day, the National AIDS Memorial Grove held its two annual events that brought together more than 1,300 friends and supporters to celebrate our community’s extraordinary resilience, remember those who have died, honor national leaders and unsung heroes in the fight against AIDS, and award scholarships to future young leaders in the fight against it.
For the past quarter of a century, the Grove has served not only as a place of healing and remembrance, but also one of hope. We know the story of the epidemic has been one of death and stigma and struggle and loss, but we also know that our response to AIDS has been nothing short of heroic. We did for ourselves what others, including government and public health, at first, would not — we drew from ourselves the strength and determination to take care of our friends, lovers, families, communities. We created hope where there was only hopelessness.
Light in the Grove
At the 6th annual Light in the Grove fundraising gala, much of the ten-acre Memorial was illuminated to honor those lost, and to celebrate the spirit of hope. Guests experienced a candlelight reflection at the Circle of Friends, and the evening included special musical and choreographed artistic performances.
This year’s Light In the Grove was expressly about making our hope as a community more tangible, more visible – an integral part of the Grove experience. Our responsibility as the nation’s federally-designated memorial to the AIDS epidemic is to build on this thread of hope and weave from it as complete a picture of our community’s magnificent response to AIDS as possible.
Both events carried the theme of ‘Surviving Voices’, a reference to the Grove’s recent collaborative effort with the HIV Story Project to capture and curate the vast and diverse voices of the epidemic through personal stories told by survivors. This ongoing collaborative project is aimed at documenting the American story of AIDS, and inspiring future generations with stories that speak of profound courage, unity of humankind, and unrelenting hope. At Light in the Grove, this message of hope was conveyed via the following new video:
World AIDS Day National Observance
At the Grove’s 22nd annual World AIDS Day National Observance on December 1st, humanitarian, philanthropist, and Chairman Emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co., Robert D. Haas, was honored with the World AIDS Day National Leadership Recognition Award for his work on the responsibilities of businesses in the AIDS crisis and laying the groundwork for effectively addressing the epidemic within the workplace context. Under his leadership, Levi Strauss became the very first Fortune 500 company to extend full medical benefits to domestic partners of employees at that critical time.
“Bob is a true pioneer who went to great lengths to put values at the center of how he ran Levi Strauss & Co. His courageous leadership addressing the HIV/AIDS issue set the stage for the company’s long-standing commitment, while also driving the response from the corporate community at large,” said Daniel Lee, executive director, Levi Strauss Foundation. “Through both his words and his actions, Bob demonstrated an unrelenting dedication to doing the right thing. He was unafraid to raise his voice against opposing social views and corporate cultural norms, and made bold moves to protect the rights of marginalized groups who bore the brunt of the epidemic.”
In addition, the San Francisco Leather Community was awarded the Thom Weyand Unsung Hero Award. In the 1980’s, members of the Leather Community were among the first to respond in a meaningful way to the AIDS crisis, establishing charitable organizations that helped with emergency basics such as rent, food, and utilities, and even assistance with pets and legal aid. They formed these organizations, held the board positions, and were the volunteer base and producers of a large majority of charitable events and fundraisers. Throughout the almost 35-year history of the AIDS crisis, the Leather Community has raised countless millions of dollars to help those in need and to further the advancement of treatments and education through conversations about HIV. The following video was played as a tribute to San Francisco’s Leather Community:
Premiered at the event were also over 15 beautifully produced video interviews with leaders from the Leather Community that provide an important historical perspective and are part of the ongoing collaboration with HIV Story Project to capture the stories of surviving voices. Funded by grants from Folsom Street Events and Grassroots Gay Rights Foundation, the videos, along with other digital media AIDS quilt stories, will be available on the Grove’s website and at www.GenerationsHIV.org.
The Grove also awarded $40,000 in scholarships to six outstanding students this year as part of the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship Program. Funded through grants from UnitedHealthcare, Wells Fargo and Project Inform, the scholarships support the academic efforts of emerging young leaders who demonstrate an active commitment to fighting AIDS, and who plan to pursue careers and community work to find ways to make a difference in the epidemic. The scholarship program is named in honour of AIDS educator, activist and reality television pioneer Pedro Zamora, who passed away in 1994 from an AIDS-related illness.
The World AIDS Day observance concluded with attendees gathering for the reading of the names of those engraved this year into the Circle of Friends.
During both events, an interactive video ‘storytelling booth’ was featured where attendees were able to record and share their personal stories about HIV/AIDS. As part of the Grove’s collaboration with HIV Story Project, the storytelling booth will be used initially at events in San Francisco during 2016 with the goal of ensuring the stories of the epidemic continue to be captured and retained as part of a digital media AIDS quilt to inform future generations of both the struggle and hope of the San Francisco community, with a vision of capturing stories nationwide in the future. This collaboration is born out of a shared vision to ensure that the lessons of the AIDS epidemic are forever secured as an oral history across the vast and diverse stories of surviving voices.