The Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship supports the educational pursuits of young people who demonstrate an active commitment to fighting AIDS by taking on roles of public service and leadership, and who plan to continue to find ways to make a difference in the epidemic through their careers or through public service opportunities after their education is complete. Since 2009, the program has awarded a total of $100,000 in scholarships to 40 ‘young leaders’ in the fight against AIDS and we are proud to feature our 2015 scholarship recipients below.
Raymond Jackson is currently working on his associate’s degree in Social Science: Psychology at Essex County College, and intends to further his studies and attain a bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Rutgers University, with a minor in Philosophy. Raymond’s goal is to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Psychology Health Department, exploring the mental side of HIV infected individuals. In addition, he works as activate President of Project (WOW) leadership group called I.M.P.A.C.T.T, where he has the opportunity to share his personal story of living with HIV and inform his peers of the importance of protecting themselves.
Adrian Nava is a third year student at the University of Denver, in Denver Colorado. He plans on completing his B.A in International Studies and Sociology, then applying to law school, in order to go back into his home town and serve his community. In the future, Adrian plans on working in the non-profit sector, and focusing on health and access to health services for LGBT people and people of color. Adrian has worked in the sexual health field for 5 years and continues to do work around sexual health at state, and national levels. Adrian’s connection to HIV/AIDS is a personal one: As one who has experienced discrimination based on perceived or known sexual orientation, he realizes that the stigma around HIV/AIDS is still present in the American culture, and that his work is shaped by his story, and the stories of those around him.
Uzo Okoro is a senior at Brown University majoring in Public Health. Upon graduation, she will attend The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University to pursue her medical degree. She was selected by Advocates for Youth to be a Youth Ambassador for NYHAAD, National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, in order to promote a message of prevention, treatment, care, and youth empowerment. In addition to hosting informal events and circulating petitions, she used countless forms of social media to amplify the voice of HIV+ survivors. She also had the unique opportunity to speak at a Congressional Briefing regarding the importance of NYHAAD, discussing the significance of youth advocacy, participation, and engagement in the fight against HIV/AIDS. At Brown University, she is also a lead coordinator of the Sexual Health Awareness Group (SHAG). As a student leader, she participates in sexual peer education, which includes hosting inclusive workshops about sexuality, gender identities, pregnancy/STD prevention, healthy relationships, communication, consent, and various other issues relating to sex and health. She is also currently conducting research through her university about HIV/AIDS. Her research project, titled Alcohol and Sexual Risk Behaviors in Nigeria: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 1997-2014, focuses on the prevalence and relationship between HIV/AIDS and other sexual risk behaviors, including alcohol. While she values the power of research in the fight against HIV/AIDS, she is also motivated to continue her participation in community health by applying for a Master’s of Science in Primary Care and Population Medicine at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
Abdon Orrostieta is a junior at the university of central Florida. He volunteers with Latino Salud, a non-profit community- and minority-based HIV agency that provides HIV rapid testing and linkage services making Ryan White support and other medical services accessible to HIV-positive individuals. He is also a member of the Health Awareness and Prevention Society, which promotes increased awareness and healthy living through education and preventation, and plans to incorporate what he has learned through his involvement with HAPS and Latino Salud into his future professional endeavors. Abdon is passionate about being out on the streets promoting safe sex, and teaching Hispanics and African Americans the importance of HIV status awareness and open communication about the importance of safe sex practices, and ultimately aspires to become a physician and treat HIV patients.
Shira Smillie is a sophomore at the University of Richmond where she is double majoring in American Studies and Latin American Latino and Iberian Studies. Her concentration in American Studies focuses on the intersections of identity, poverty, power and privilege in the United States. Since 2013, Shira has worked at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing on a Centers for Disease Control funded HIV/STI prevention program for Black youth with mental illness. Her responsibilities on this project included facilitating focus groups, outreach for the program, recruiting youth at different mental health sites throughout Philadelphia, and compiling statistical data. Shira is committed to a life of giving back to others and social justice.
Manuel Venegas is a 23 year old, first-generation Mexican-American college student. Receiving this award will help him achieve his goal of finishing up his undergraduate studies in Latin American & Caribbean Studies with an emphasis on Global Health. He wants to use his native language of Spanish to help out his community abroad where HIV & AIDS are still an epidemic. His background in public policy, community organizing and mobilization are just some key factors that come into play when he advocates for HIV & AIDS at the community, state, and national level. As a third-year student at the University of Washington, he hopes to expand his influence to an international level. As a mayoral appointment to the City of Seattle LGBT Commission, he hopes to further strengthen his voice as a community advocate and leverage his perspective as person openly living with HIV.
By Marc Smolowitz, HIV Story Project Executive Producer & Board Chair and
Mike Shriver, National AIDS Memorial Grove Board Co-Chair
Every story has a voice. The history of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is filled with the challenge of remembering and learning from these stories, our stories. It is also about finding and empowering our voices. Stories have the power to heal but only if they are told. After three decades of this pandemic, there is an urgent need to tell and preserve the HIV/AIDS stories of survival before they are lost, before they are forgotten. In remembering, we heal and through our healing we inspire. Hope emerges from this healing.
It is in this spirit of hope, healing and remembrance that we are thrilled to announce “Joining Forces—Surviving Voices,” a new collaborative partnership between The HIV Story Project (HSP) and the National AIDS Memorial Grove (the Grove). This collaboration is born out of a shared vision to ensure the lessons of the HIV/AIDS pandemic are forever secured as an oral history across the vast and diverse stories of our surviving voices.
Throughout the pandemic, specific groups and communities have disproportionally borne the burden of HIV. In many cases, these disproportionately impacted communities share a history of being on the margins and being often overlooked. All their stories, across all their experiences, however, are important. All need to be heard, recorded and preserved.
On a more personal level, we all bring with us our own stories, those of the countless family members and friends, volunteers, communities and professionals who have lived through the pandemic as caregivers, emotional support, service providers, fundraisers, advocates, neighbors, friends, partners. It is imperative that any HIV/AIDS storytelling project find ways to capture this incredible diversity of voices.
We are excited that this partnership takes advantage of state of the art documentary filmmaking and digital media to provide 21st century technology and accessibility. We will record survivor stories through professionally directed and produced interviews and HSP’s highly regarded interactive storytelling booth. The stories that are recorded in the booth will be added to HSP’s newly launched Generation HIV: Online Archive.
On Friday, June 5th, HSP, along with the Grove, launched Generation HIV: Online Archive at an event in City Hall (see: http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?article=70653&sec=news.) The June 5th date was chosen as is was the 34th anniversary of the CDC’s announcement of the first reported cases of AIDS.
Recently, HSP and the Grove were the first collaboration ever to become a recipient of grants from both Folsom Street Events — the organization which sponsors both the Up Your Alley and Folsom Street Fairs — as well as Grass Roots Gay Rights Foundation — the organization which sponsors REAL BAD. These grants will help HSP and the Grove expand the reach of this collaboration and in 2015 to focus on gathering the stories from the Leather Community and their response to the AIDS epidemic.
HSP is an award-winning nonprofit that uses multi-platform media, filmmaking and personal stories to advance education and awareness, support nonprofit organizations, fight the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, and give a voice to the HIV positive community. The Grove, located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, is a dedicated space in the national landscape where millions of Americans touched directly or indirectly by AIDS can gather to heal, hope, and remember. The mission of the Grove is to provide, in perpetuity, a place of remembrance so that the lives of people who died from AIDS are not forgotten and the story is known by future generations.
History provides us with valuable lessons—living histories provide both real time lessons and if recorded and preserved those lessons can be passed on to future generations. Joining Forces—Surviving Voices brings two great organizations together to do just that.
By Jeffrey Moualim
We were going to a special place that held time in suspense the National AIDS Memorial Grove to honor those who had fallen to a disease I had once feared as an insidious enemy. There were times even hearing or discussing Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome gave me an uneasiness that could still darken my mood with trepidation. I had lost my second cousin Edmund Ezra to HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s. A kind soul who in his waning days I could not face fearing I might be next. Now deep in my thoughts as we drove to the Grove, I hoped this would in some cosmic way show Edmund he was not forgotten.
My life that day felt like I was beginning to complete a circumference, a journey that started for myself so many years before and now was making a full circle toward acceptance and closure. Acceptance that my struggle was not unique, my demons were not singling me out, and that my path was not walked alone. Closure, in my realization that my fears and my “idols of the mind” were my manifestations and did not have to be my reality.
I was born with Hemophilia in 1955; I did suffer early on from joint bleeds and painful episodes. That after 10 years my community saw a shining light in the development of Factor VIII and Factor IX concentrate in the late 1960’s only to see that light dim into despair and darkness with the onset of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C entering our blood product supply just ten years later. The product we relied on to prevent or halt internal bleeding was now a high stake game of Russian roulette. Parents with children with Hemophilia were forced into making life and death decisions and teenagers and young men like me were cognizant that with every injection of factor the very real possibility of being infected was much more than a talking point at a medical conference. We were at ground zero, a battle we did not ask for, a war that caused casualties seemingly every day.
As HIV/AIDS progressed through the Hemophilia community leaving the flower of my generation in ruin our resolve constantly tested. With each and every gathering people who we had grown up with now missing from failing health and/or death took its toll. Our nascent post traumatic syndrome that began with Hemophilia and the long hours of being treated in Emergency rooms and weeks in hospitals now exponentially grew into a three headed monster, Hemophilia, HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. And in our darkest hours those who we had put our trust in, the blood banks, the pharmaceutical companies that manufactured factor and even the doctors who had taken the Hippocratic oath “first do no harm” had failed us on an epic scale.
My thoughts drifting, sifting through my own history as my wife and I navigated our way to the Grove that morning. My blessings immeasurable to be alive, to be married to the love of my life, and to have escaped what many of my peers could not, thanks to a miraculous liver transplant at UCLA in 2005. Our car now parked at the Grove today a new chapter to be written.
Every third Saturday of the month from March-Oct the National AIDS Memorial AIDS grove is a beehive of activity. John Cunningham executive director of the Memorial is the maestro and while juggling an already busy schedule proceeded to direct my wife and I where we needed to go. Our first stop was the Circle of Friends, where loved ones can be memorialized in stone and in our hearts. It was this circle that we would revisit later that morning for the remembrance of those lost that cemented an idea I had to come to see. The LGBT Community and the Hemophilia community are concentric circles. They both share the same center, the same core if you will AIDS. Their bond once broken (but not irreparably) by the ignorance and prejudice that tried assigning blame on Gay Men for the tragedy in the Hemophilia community carried sadness above and beyond the initial pandemic. A medical disaster that devastated these two communities should not and will not in the future divide two groups who have far more in common than maybe once realized.
Our tour continued and the words that John said that once inside the grove the city of San Francisco, the noise and distraction fades literally into the wood work of the trees and beauty of this place resonated with me for the balance of the day. My wife Sue was quickly volunteered for gardening and she joined an enthusiastic group of young and old in making sure that the Grove looks its best. I continued with John learning more about the history of the Grove and seeing the boulder dedicated to Ryan White a young man of great courage who because of a blood product he had taken as a person with Hemophilia succumbed to AIDS 25 years ago this past April. Through the morning and early afternoon Sue and I were touched by the camaraderie and spirituality shown by the board members of the National AIDS Memorial Grove and all of the participants who came that day, a true celebration of life. We did not feel like strangers or out of place, in truth we felt we had come home and shared our mutual experiences with those who could truly understand.
When lunch ends (and it was delicious) we all make our way back to where we started our visit at the Circle of Friends. Introductions of visitors are made, announcement of coming events are made known and then with the ringing of a Tibetan bell a moment of silence is observed. We are encouraged to speak the name of someone not with us today. I spoke the name Edmund and hoped he could hear what I could not say to him almost 30 years ago.
When we drove away from the Grove we knew we would be back to visit again. To share the serenity and comfort this oasis brings to those who perished and those of us who have survived.
Concentric Circles had reached out and touched one another. The importance of a shared history of tragedy and triumph to be preserved for generations to come. And the beginning of a dialogue, a cautionary tale of two communities who faced devastation and came out the other side with their dignity intact to be told side by side. That inclusion will help prevent the mistakes of the past from recurring and to leave this world a better place than how we found it.
By William Hill, National AIDS Memorial Grove Board Member and Steve Sagaser, Staff
Levi Strauss’ Annual Community Day at the Grove
On May 7th, nearly 100 Levi Strauss employees commemorated Levi’s annual Community Day by volunteering at the Grove. The partnership between the Grove and Levi’s is an example of a shared commitment to community that extends far beyond traditional vehicles of support. Since the first pair of Levi’s jeans was made over 140 years ago, the company has always been a trailblazer. The Levi’s brand has understood that its brand loyalty is more than a pair of jeans, and is cemented through shared values with its stakeholders. Mr. Levi Strauss himself left a lasting legacy of commitment to community, a legacy that Levi’s employees continue to honor both in San Francisco and in other communities where Levi’s does business.
The relationship between the Grove and the Levi’s brand extends more than 20 years and has been deepened by our shared values. Since the first group of Levi’s employees showed up at a Grove workday in 1999, hundreds have followed, dedicating more than 6,000 volunteer hours toward transforming the landscape of the Memorial. Both the Grove and Levi’s were founded in San Francisco and our values come from the same rich soil. The Levi’s brand has embraced the spirit of San Francisco by dedicating thousands of dollars and employee volunteer hours to help support the Grove’s mission. Levi’s employees continue to help beautify many of our city’s special park spaces year-after-year, with the National AIDS Memorial Grove being one of their favorites!
Blue Shield of California Day of Service at the Grove
On Thursday, May 28th, members of Blue Shield of California’s Shield Pride (for LGBT) and the Black Employee Network gathered at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park to volunteer together. The goal was to bring together two of Blue Shield’s newest employee resource groups to build relationships and serve the community. This was the first time Blue Shield has worked with the Memorial Grove to host its very own day of service.
More than 50 Blue Shield employees arrived at Golden Gate Park to trim ferns, remove invasive species, and dig holes for new lighting. The teams even planted a tree to commemorate people of color who have been lost to HIV & AIDS.
Let’s hear it for the Grove! We are currently the top fundraising team for AIDS Walk San Francisco! We invite you to register with the Grove’s team (#2916) for AIDS Walk on July 19th. It’s simple to register: just click here. All funds raised by Grove board members and staff will directly benefit the Grove. This is a fun and simple way to raise much-needed funding for ours and other worthy organizations, and it signals the Grove’s support in the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS. If you won’t be joining us for the Walk, please consider sponsoring one of our board or staff members. We’ve set our goal at $25,000 this year, and we’re more than halfway there!
Since 1987, AIDS Walk SF has raised $84 million for HIV programs and services in the Bay Area, and has grown into the largest AIDS fundraising event in Northern California. This year once again, Quest Diagnostics, the world leader in diagnostic services, is the Premier Sponsor of AIDS Walk San Francisco, and is collaborating directly with several nonprofit organizations in Northern California, including the National AIDS Memorial Grove, Project Inform, API Wellness, and Rafiki Wellness in support of HIV/AIDS research, education and awareness, screening and care across the diverse communities of the Greater Northern California area.
At this year’s Walk, Quest Diagnostics has planned many unique activities throughout the day, both at its booth and along the course. Activities include body/face painting tables, a dedication station where walkers can publicly recognize those they are walking in honor/memory of, and a scavenger hunt along the walk route with prizes benefitting well-deserving organizations. Our hats are off to Quest Diagnostics for generously supporting this critical annual event, with funding and fun!
Over the past several months, there have been some new additions to the board of directors of the National AIDS Memorial Grove. You may have already seen and met many of them at one of the Community Volunteer Workdays, or even at Light in the Grove or World AIDS Day, but we wanted to take this opportunity to introduce them to you by telling you a little about each one.
Todd Criter: Todd joined the Board of Directors in June 2015, and serves on the site and development committees. Todd first learned about the Grove a few years ago when he was attending a luncheon in the Grove, and has volunteered on Saturday’s helping to maintain the grounds.
Originally from Wisconsin, Todd holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his professional career, he is a Senior Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch, a Bank of America Corporation, where he has worked for over 20 years. Todd helps clients tailor wealth management strategies to fit each of his client’s needs and goals.
Todd has made San Francisco his home since 1996, and supports his community through non-profit organizations. He has previously served on the founding board of Groundwork Opportunities in San Francisco. Todd also helps to support several other charities.
William ‘Bill’ Hill: Bill joined the Board of Directors in December 2014. Bill serves as co-chair of the Community Volunteer Workday Committee, and also sits on the Site Committee.
Bill has a long and intimate history of volunteer involvement with several HIV/AIDS focused organizations in both San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Prior to becoming involved with the National AIDS Memorial Grove, Bill was a volunteer at Project Open Hand, Shanti L.I.F.E. Program, Under One Roof, and Cascade AIDS Project.
Bill has over 20 years of operational and support experience in both the public and private sectors. Currently Bill works for the not-for-profit health plan, Blue Shield of California in the Corporate Finance & Treasury Organization. Bill received his project management certificate from San Francisco State University.
Kory Powell-McCoy: Kory joined the Board of Directors in June 2015. After his first experience in 2012 volunteering at the Light in the Grove fundraising event, and subsequently celebrating World AIDS Day, he wanted to be more in involved in the National AIDS Memorial Grove. He has since served the National AIDS Memorial Grove by documenting the monthly workdays photographically for use in the monthly newsletter.
Originally from the Midwest, Kory got his BFA in Dance Performance from Oklahoma City University and has traveled the world, performing in New York, the Mediterranean, and a Las Vegas Revue. He settled in San Francisco 7 years ago. Currently he volunteers for various organizations specializing in addiction recovery. He has been Chair of Hospitality for the Finding Fellowship retreat, worked on various fundraisers for the Castro Country Club, and is also currently Co-Chair of the Positively Fabulous Retreat, celebrating those who are both recovering from addiction and afflicted by AIDS.
Tom Raffin: Tom joined the Board of Directors in January 2015 and serves on the site and development committees. He co-chaired the “Light in the Grove” event in 2014. He is currently a senior partner and co-founder (2001) of the healthcare private equity firm Telegraph Hill Partners in San Francisco and worked closely with LDR Spine, PneumRx, AngioScore, Freedom Innovations, Vidacare and Estech. In 1999 he joined the Board of NewLink Genetics (NASDAQ: NLNK) a cancer immunotherapy and vaccine (Ebola) company and is currently the Lead Director. In 1996 he co-founded the biotech company Rigel Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RIGL).
After completing medical school at Stanford University, Tom began his medical career as an internal medicine resident at the Brigham & Women’s, a Harvard teaching hospital in Boston. He returned to Stanford for Fellowship training in pulmonary and critical care medicine. Tom spent 28 years on the faculty at Stanford University Medical School as the Colleen and Robert Haas Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Ethics. He was Chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Medicine; and, co-founded and directed the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics. Tom was an active clinician, teacher and investigator. He was the Associate Director of the Intensive Care Units. He had over 300 publications and co-authored the book Intensive Care: Facing the Critical Choices. In 1982 Tom founded the Stanford University Asia-Medical Fund to bring outstanding fellows from the Pacific Rim to be trained in research at Stanford for at least one year, and to then return to their home institutions (75 fellows as of 2014). In 2014 Tom was presented with the Stanford Medical School Alumni of the Year Award.
Blake Spears: Blake joined the Board of Directors in January 2015.
Although born and raised in Virginia, Blake has lived in the SF area for over 40 years. His professional experience includes 25 years as a market research consultant to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries for his own firm, InSight Healthcare Consulting. His career also includes working for the US Environmental Protection Agency.
He brings over 20 years of non-profit board experience, 14 of which have been with Matri Compassionate Care, an HIV hospice in San Francisco. He also sits on the Oakland City Commission on Aging, the board of the HIV Story Project and the board of The Second Opinion (free second opinions for cancer patients). His background includes degrees in chemical engineering and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In 2013 he married Lanz Lowen, his partner of 39 years.
Created in 2009 as the “Youth Essay Scholarship Program” and renamed in 2012 as the “Young Leaders Scholarship Program,” the National AIDS Memorial Grove’s college-scholarship program has to date awarded scholarships to 35 deserving individuals. With major support from our presenting sponsor, UnitedHealthcare, $50,000 in scholarships have been awarded. Approximately half of the awardees are from outside the greater Bay Area, and in the last three years the program has become truly national in its reach.
In 2014 (with the blessing and the permission of Zamora’s family), the Grove expanded the scholarship program and re-launched it as the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship. Dedicated to the continuing legacy of AIDS educator and activist Pedro Zamora, the scholarship supports the academic efforts of emerging young leaders who share Pedro’s passionate commitment to ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. At the age of 22, Zamora captivated the nation with his openness, compassion, vitality, and charisma when he appeared on MTV’s The Real World 3: San Francisco (1994). At the veritable dawn of reality television, America watched this grounded, insightful Cuban-American immigrant leave his tight-knit family in Miami and move across the country to live in a house with six strangers — where he was filmed in close quarters, day and night, whether he was in the “Real World” house, enjoying the day with friends, talking to a roomful of students, or going out on a date.
Pedro moved to San Francisco knowing that, for the first time, millions of young people would get an up-close look at a young Latino who was openly gay and openly HIV-positive. Pedro leveraged this platform to address the sometimes competing needs of reducing stigma and reinforcing prevention. Viewers saw him living his life with joy and integrity, and trying to make a difference in the world. They watched him laughing and arguing and enjoying an active life with easily made new friends. They saw him fall in love and exchange commitment rings with another young HIV+ activist named Sean Sasser. And they experienced the very personal impact of the epidemic as he wrestled with a progression from HIV to AIDS, first with a devastating low T-cell count, then a late-night trip to the hospital with PCP. Pedro’s participation in The Real World was a strategic extension of the work he had been doing for almost five years. Soon after learning that he was living with HIV at age 17, Pedro literally dedicated his life to fighting the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic. His chosen mission was to raise public awareness and to arm other young people with the information and tools they needed to protect themselves against a virus that he knew would claim his own life far too soon. Long before The Real World, Pedro provided HIV education to thousands of middle- and high-school students in small-group, classroom, and assembly-style settings, also to trained educators and counselors; gave keynote addresses to national conferences of youth-serving professionals; battled stigma by sacrificing his privacy to raise awareness through profiles in major newspapers; and testified brilliantly, candidly, and bluntly before Congress on the failure of the public-health and education systems to be protective forces for young people during the most critical public-health threat in generations. Pedro’s work was tragically cut short when he died of an AIDS-related illness, in 1994, the morning after the final episode of The Real World. The Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship is meant to support and spotlight those young leaders from this generation, whose efforts and leadership continue to carry the torch of young activists like Pedro who fought the HIV/AIDS epidemic of their generation, in ways inspired by their own passions, insights, and conviction.
The mission of the National AIDS Memorial Grove is to provide, in perpetuity, a place of remembrance so that the lives of people who died from AIDS are not forgotten, and the story is known by future generations. As a community and as an organization, we always remember, but we also continue to look forward. We know that, despite growing misperceptions that the epidemic is contained, HIV/AIDS continues to ravage communities and cut short the lives and aspirations of millions of people. We are acutely aware that 25% of new infections domestically, and 40% of new infections globally, are among youth and young adults. And we believe that we have an ethical imperative to help create as well as support the next generation of HIV/AIDS leaders, be these doctors, nurses, activists, health-care professionals, policy-makers, or even philanthropists, by helping them as they pursue their education and careers.
Scholarship recipients — past and present — are engaged in a wide variety of HIV-related work both in school as well as within the chosen academic field. Some examples of this include: pursuing a medical degree to work with HIV-positive individuals; strengthening community-based peer-education programs targeting both high-risk and HIV+ youth and young adults in a college setting academic studies in the fields of microbiology and computers to pursue a career in HIV research; working in an international setting providing HIV-prevention efforts; entering into the business/philanthropic community to strengthen corporate efforts to help fund community initiatives; and studying to continue working in the reproductive-health field to work with high-risk young women and addressing HIV, STDs, and reproductive health.
Pedro Zamora’s life continues to inspire countless young activists through the syndication of the early years of The Real World, the award-winning graphic memoir Pedro and Me written by Pedro’s close friend (and roommate from the show) Judd Winick, and the 2008 feature film Pedro. The National AIDS Memorial Grove is committed to ensuring that Pedro’s legacy continues and thrives through this scholarship program, and that his life and example will be an aspirational point of reference for a new generation of young leaders.
The Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship is open to all current high school seniors, and college freshman, sophomores and juniors (ages 27 and younger) who demonstrate an active commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS and taking on roles of public service and leadership. Examples include (but are not limited to): serving in peer-education and prevention programs; working in the reproductive-health and sexual health field; pursuing a medical degree to work with HIV-positive individuals; international service providing AIDS-related care and/or HIV-prevention education; research in established and emerging technologies designed to mitigate the epidemic; or activism and social change efforts that address issues contributing to the epidemic, like education and drug sentencing reform, employment and economic justice issues, housing and homelessness. Scholarships range from $2,500 to $5,000, and award recipients are announced at the Grove’s World AIDS Day Observance on December 1.
On December 1, 2014, the 21st annual World AIDS Day National Observance was held at the National AIDS Memorial Grove. This year’s Presenting Partners were Wells Fargo and Quest Diagnostics. Mario Diaz, Vice President of Wells Fargo Foundation, introduced Dr. Rick Pesano, Vice President of Quest Diagnostics, who took the stage to speak of Quest’s ongoing commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS, and emphasized that we all must recommit ourselves to continue the fight in order to achieve an AIDS-free generation. Dr. Pesano’s remarks ended with the quote: “Act as if what you do today makes the difference. It does.” To listen to Dr. Pesano’s full remarks, please view the video below:
The theme of this year’s observance was ‘The Story Will Be Known By Future Generations.” Longtime AIDS and human rights activist and actress, Judith Light, was honored with the National Leadership Recognition Award. Her story begins at a time when national leadership in the AIDS epidemic required a particular kind of courage. Judith stepped up to provide much-needed visibility, support, money, and compassion. A well-known and accomplished actor, multiple Tony and Emmy award winner, Judith involved herself in the AIDS epidemic starting in the 1980’s, including playing the role of Jeanne White in the Ryan White Story. She’s also been a generous donor of time, energy, ideas, and ‘light’. Without hesitation, Judith brought her considerable reputation and influence during a time of crisis and stigma. She identifies as an activist, and has ‘walked the walk’ for over 30 years. Since the early days, she has lent her name, support, and energy by participating in marches and parades, and serving on committees and boards. She’s been a prodigious fundraiser, organizer, speaker, sponsor, and host.
“I am deeply touched and humbled by this honor,” said Light. “Too many lives have been lost to HIV/AIDS and too many of our friends and loved ones have struggled, not just fighting for their lives, but enduring endless discrimination and homophobia, which still exists today. We must continue sharing our stories and our passion to not only find a cure, but raise the level of awareness so everyone, particularly our children, know they are loved, cherished and respected for who they are.” To listen to Judith’s full remarks, please view the video below.
Paul Boneberg, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, received the Thom Weyand Unsung Hero Award. From a small group of concerned individuals working out of his apartment, Paul created one of the most amazing, comprehensive, and often overlooked responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In 1984 Paul founded Mobilization Against AIDS (MAA), the nation’s first advocacy organization created to help improve the lives of people living with AIDS. He helped take over the AIDS Candlelight March, growing it to become the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, the world’s largest grassroots AIDS activity. After Paul left MAA he founded the Global AIDS Action Network (GAAN) and has served as the director of the AIDS Coalition Silicon Valley. To listen to Paul’s full remarks, please view the video below.
The Grove also awarded five scholarships to students this year as part of the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship Award Program, with Alexander Pacach taking the stage to speak to his past and current community service, educational and career goals focused on HIV prevention amongst young people. Funded through a grant from UnitedHealthcare, the $2,500 – $5,000 scholarships support the academic efforts of emerging young people who share Pedro’s passionate commitment to ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The scholarship program was renamed earlier this year in honor of AIDS educator, activist and reality television pioneer Pedro Zamora, who passed away twenty years ago from an AIDS-related illness. Former “MTV Real World” cast members and roommates of Pedro, Judd Winick and Pam Ling, announced the scholarships, and scholarship recipient Alexander Pacach took the stage. To listen to Alexander’s full remarks, please view the video below.
Sponsored by Wells Fargo and Quest Diagnostics, along with the support of many community partners, the World AIDS Day National Observance concluded with a gathering for the reading of the names of those engraved in 2014 into the Circle of Friends.
On the eve of World AIDS Day, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who in 1996 sponsored and helped pass legislation that designated the Grove as a National Memorial, was the featured speaker during the annual “Light in the Grove” fundraising gala in support of the National AIDS Memorial Grove’s mission. Much of the Grove was illuminated to honor those lost, and to celebrate the spirit of light and life. 600 guests experienced a candlelight reflection at the Circle of Friends, followed by a walk through the brilliantly illuminated Redwood Grove to enter a warm and clear tent where they enjoyed cocktails and buffets. The evening included special musical and choreographed artistic performances.
“The Grove is a special place to come, not just to remember the loved ones we have lost, but to be reminded of the countless stories of the treasured lives whose spirits are a part of this beautiful space and who can never be forgotten,” said Congresswoman Pelosi. “Each year that passes without a cure only strengthens our resolve to end this devastating disease and stop this senseless loss of life.”
The 2014 Light in the Grove ‘Lifetime of Commitment’ award was presented to Ken Henderson, executive director, and Joe Seiler, board chair, of the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation (REAF). Ken and Joe’s story with REAF began twenty years ago when they began producing a fundraising entertainment event called ”Help is on the Way: San Francisco Cares” which has become one of the Bay Area’s largest annual AIDS benefit concerts, distributing more than $3 million to over 30 Bay Area AIDS service agencies.
REAF was founded in 1994 by two mothers, Barbara Richmond and Peggy Ermet, who each lost their only sons to AIDS, as a way to both honor their sons’ memories, and to raise funds for the kinds of agencies that provided services for them before they died. With the help of long-time friends Ken and Joe, these remarkable women inspired the mostly-volunteer organization that has helped so many AIDS organizations throughout the years.
2014 marks the 25th year since the idea of an AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco was conceived. Below Thom Weyand, former executive director and current board member, reflects on what the Grove means to him.
When I was a teenager bicycling around the edges of my South Buffalo (NY) neighborhood, I came upon a modest but dense beech-tree grove in an Olmsted park. The grove was magical. The leaves of the trees formed a canopy that felt like a hidey-hole. The knobby trunks and low-hanging branches made for an easy climb to a perch that had my name on it (tree-huggers, note: not really). In here I was embraced and the world outside the grove was, well, outside. I connected to something special, something that I would later call spiritual and life-affirming.
Those were the words that came back to me three decades later when my (now) husband Terry and I first descended into de Laveaga Dell and discovered the National AIDS Memorial Grove — in another Olmsted-inspired park.
This Grove is the place that so many had talked of, and now I knew why. This is the place I would visit for nearly two decades — first as visitor, then executive director, and a few years later as a member of the Grove’s governing board.
This is the place I can shed my worries, my fears, my tears. This is where I have a heart-connection with nature, and I am allowed all the expanse I need to feel the loss I have weathered, the grief that comes with so much loss — and now my own personal grief derived from seeing the time remaining in my life measured in months, not years.
For this reason, many loving relatives and friends have been visiting Terry and me of late. If the occasion arose, I’d take them to the Grove’s Circle of Friends, a stellar destination and one I felt fairly safe about reaching in my weakened condition. Eventually I would hear the comfort call of a nearby bench and suggest that the others enjoy a more complete Grove tour, taking in the redwoods, the Japanese maples, the rhododendron trees, the bays and laurels, and any of the several broken-circle hardscape features, broken to reflect the searing tear in our community from the ravages of AIDS.
I didn’t mind resting on the bench while they moved on. Being alone and at peace in the Grove was always special for me. Now, I found myself reflecting on many of its attributes. I looked down the length of the Meadow and I remembered how the Crossroads Circle was not there for years, leading some people to think that the west end of the Meadow must be the western terminus of the Grove as well. But now, with the Crossroads Circle in place, viewing it from the redwoods one’s eyes will venture further — to Moonwalk Way and the North and South paths running along the creek-bed. It is along this creek that the tenor of the Grove changes from a light open space to a cool welcoming darkness. The paths will take them still further west, back to the light, to the Circle of Peace, the Thom Gunn quatrain, Henry Wells’ inspirational words, and to the head of a restored Victorian-era waterfall that begins here. A small conceit: I conceived the Crossroads Circle, though I was too ill at the time to see it built; that would come later when I also first saw the West Portal and Belvedere Overlook, where a snapshot chronicle of the history of AIDS continues to give every reader pause.
I’d further look back on the gifts of so many who have made the Grove possible — the founders, the donors, designers, the gardeners, the skilled site people, the Workday Volunteers who have put their hearts and guts into honoring and memorializing their loved ones, friends, and even strangers — by tending the Grove with shovels, gloves, and various tools. I remain in awe of all the sweat equity, all given freely and unconditionally.
Most of all, though, sitting on that bench while the others roamed gave me time to reflect on the memorial services that were and are held in all the circles, and other places throughout the Grove, countless places. I’d reflect on the people I’d known and lost; I didn’t know I had so many tears.
And I’d reflect on the truth that this was a once-derelict 10-acre space. Turn it 180 degrees and take it two-plus decades down the road: now this National Memorial shines. It speaks of honor, life, and love every minute, every day. Love lives here.
The love goes back to Day One. At the time the Grove was founded, it was common to see men — and some women — hold back from shedding tears in public. The Grove changed that: it provided a safe space for all — men, women, and children to cry out their sorrow — with no fear of recrimination. Not only is it a safe place but the Grove also provides a space for us to take that sorrow and turn it into the loveliest of God’s creations: a garden, a garden that heals, honors, and embraces (not unlike the embrace I felt from the canopied trees of my teenage grove).
I’m lucky. My time at the National AIDS Memorial Grove as executive director, then later as a Workday volunteer and board member, has blessed me enormously over almost two decades. I have watched new hardscape spaces appear and fill needed and in some cases unexpected roles, complementing the entirety of the place. I have watched landscape designs mature and in some cases change, bringing more depth and beauty to this grand space. One year I was proud to be part of the team that gained the Grove a Silver Medal in a national competition of Urban Excellence.
For all this, it is important to remember that the Grove grew organically from a small community project to become a national memorial, a positive expression of grief. But the term national memorial implies a curious mantle: it means the Grove has a greater role to play both in the lives of more Americans and in our national history. The National AIDS Memorial Grove is the repository; it is where people come to hear the stories. Ask any Grove visitor touched by AIDS to tell you a story. They will spill out their heart. It’s that simple. This special, sacred place would only be a shadow of itself without the loving care showered on it by all who made it. Now, together, we must draw on that same spirit, that love to continue to transform this space truly into the nation’s AIDS memorial.
Most likely I won’t live to read and hear these future stories but many of you will. Let these be your inspiration for unearthing and revealing more…story by story by story.
The future of the Grove includes you, and all who care about, visit, wonder about, or rely on it. It will forever be connected to you and those you remember and honor by being here.
Over the last two years, the board of directors, staff, friends, and advisors worked together to create a five-year strategic plan. Early in this effort, we crafted and adopted a new mission statement:
“The mission of the National AIDS Memorial Grove is to provide, in perpetuity, a place of remembrance so that the lives of the people who have died from AIDS are not forgotten and the story is known by future generations.”
This work was done to prepare the Grove to resonate with future visitors, new generations, survivors, friends and family, and the so-called “AIDS Generation.” This is a daunting task to say the least — and perpetuity is a very long time!
The strategic plan is focused yet far-reaching, and covers the years 2014-2018. The first year (2014) is dedicated to assessment, learning and building, and articulating an appropriate and compelling vision, as well as engaging stakeholders — you. Your input is critical the first year to help us shape the future. The Grove needs your knowledge, perspectives, and participation.
The Grove will always be a special and sacred place to memorialize and honor individual lives. However, as the site and agency have evolved, important and yet unrealized potential has been revealed. The Grove has a significant national calling to place those lives in the larger historical context of the American social response to AIDS.
The Grove seeks to provide resources and leadership for ensuring that the stories of the lives of real people are shared, preserved, and honored. Perhaps you’ve asked yourself these questions: Will the memorial resonate with future generations? Will the story, and our stories, be conveyed by the memorial when we are no longer alive? And since the pandemic is not over, what future stories are waiting to be told?
The epidemic is not over for millions of people both here in the US as well as around the world. As we preserve the history of all those lives lost to HIV/AIDS as well as the history of those survivors and fighters in the epidemic, we must be cognizant of and responsive to address the needs of younger people and future generations. The commitment from the Grove is to find inclusive and powerful ways to tell the stories, so that never again will any community be allowed to die from fear, silence, bigotry, and stigma.
In 2012, the boundaries of the Grove were officially expanded by an additional three-plus acres of land adjacent to the West Portal. This new space presents an exciting opportunity for both the Grove and our nation. Please look for future announcements from the Grove on the strategic plan, stakeholder engagement, and story preservation.
The future of the Grove includes you in the next chapter in our history.
Over the past several months, there have been some new additions to the board of directors of the National AIDS Memorial Grove. You may have already seen and met many of them at one of the Community Volunteer Workdays, or even at Light in the Grove or World AIDS Day, but we wanted to take this opportunity to introduce them to you by telling you a little about each one.
|Richard Dellefave: An attorney and CPA, Richard joined the board in July 2013. Formerly a practicing attorney, and then small-business owner (a resort in Palm Springs), Richard has since become a CPA and auditor for the RINA Accountancy Corporation here in San Francisco. In addition to being an avid gardener, Richard is associated with GRGR/West (Grass Roots Gay Rights/West), the organization responsible for the annual REAL BAD party (now in its 26th year). In the past quarter-century, REAL BAD has raised over $2 million for LGBT organizations. Richard serves as Chair of the REAL BAD Board of Directors.|
|Tracy Curtis: Tracy joined the board in July 2013, when she was Senior Vice-President at Wells Fargo, managing and implementing marketing and business strategies for Wells Fargo’s Retail and Business Banking functions for the San Francisco region. Tracy was one of the powerful speakers at the Grove’s 19th Annual World AIDS Day Observance in 2012. Tracy also served on the board of directors of both The Shanti Project, and the International Museum of Women. Recently, Tracy was promoted to president of Wells Fargo’s operations in Oregon and Southwest Washington.|
|Seth Hammac: Seth has been a long-standing fixture at our regular Community Volunteer Workdays, having been a regular attendee for over seven years before joining the board in November of 2013. Before joining the board, Seth actively participated as a member of the Grove’s Workday planning committee, as well as being a volunteer team-leader. Seth first came to the Grove through HandsOn Bay Area, an organization with a long-standing volunteer relationship with the Grove. Seth currently works for Google as a Solutions Consultant, and prior to that he worked for Microsoft and CNET Networks.|
|Dan Bernal: The San Francisco Chief of Staff for Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Dan joined the board in December 2013. Dan’s affiliation with the Grove stretches back to 2002, both as an individual and as a liaison for Leader Pelosi. When not working for Leader Pelosi, Dan can be found either training for or riding in the AIDS Life Cycle, where he has consistently been one of the lead fundraisers for that event. Dan is the former board president for the AIDS Emergency Fund/Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, and has served as a member of the board of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and has been honored as the recipient of the Bohnett Fellowship for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government.|
|Allison Oseth: Allison also joined the board in December 2013. Allison currently is the Individual Giving Manager at the California Academy of Sciences (one of the Grove’s neighbors in Golden Gate Park). Allison has almost a decade of direct and progressively responsible fundraising experience as has successfully managed the development of the Academy of Science’s annual report for the past two years. Previously, she worked for the Portland Art Museum. Allison is a certified naturalist from the University of California and additionally serves on the Advisory Council of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, as well as being a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Golden Gate Chapter.|
|Mark Ng: The most recent person to join the board (May 2014), Mark is the San Francisco Bay Regional Sales & Marketing Manager for Wells Fargo Bank. Many remember Mark from his deeply moving remarks at the most recent World AIDS Day observance in the Grove. He brings many years of service in the non-profit sector, over a decade of experience in marketing and communications in the business sector, and a passionate commitment to both youth and communities of color. Mark received his masters from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and is a board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and a talented photographer.|
The National AIDS Memorial Grove commemorated World AIDS Day with two days of events honoring leaders instrumental in the fight against AIDS, and whose extraordinary work has made a significant impact during the more than thirty years since the first diagnosis of AIDS in the United States. This year’s honorees symbolize the spirit of the Grove and its collective mission and work to fight against AIDS.
Light in the Grove
On November 30th, the eve of World AIDS Day, the National AIDS Memorial Grove once again held its annual Light in the Grove gala fundraiser, which brought together more than 500 supporters, volunteers and community leaders for an evening of remembrance, renewal, commitment and reunion. This iconic event offers a nighttime journey through darkness and light, loss and hope. A sell-out the past three years, Light in the Grove offers a unique evening experience in Golden Gate Park; an outdoor, transparently-tented celebration with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and dinner, featuring music, performance, art and brilliantly evocative, surreal and technical displays of light.
This year, we were thrilled to have as co-chairs the original three creators of Macy’s Passport: Patrick Smith, Laura Heffron, and Larry Hashbarger, whose extraordinary talents helped to raise $28 million for HIV/AIDS charities and research projects over twenty-seven years.
Tim Hanlon, President of the Wells Fargo Foundation, was presented with this year’s Lifetime of Commitment Award. Tim helped change the direction of corporate philanthropy in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, leading Wells Fargo to become a strong advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention and education programs. His powerful voice set a path for others to follow, making support for AIDS funding mainstream in corporate philanthropy. Tim has helped lead Wells Fargo to provide more than $17.8 million to local AIDS-related causes around the country during the last decade, with more than $575,000 donated to the Grove. Wells Fargo and its employees have also given more than 5,000 volunteer hours to support the Grove and helped secure critical funding to ensure that the Grove remains an important part of the national landscape, informing future generations of the American story of AIDS.
Click the links below for photos of Light in the Grove:
World AIDS Day Observance
During the World AIDS Day ceremonies at The Grove on December 1st, the National Leadership Recognition Award was awarded to Phill Wilson. Phill is the founder, President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on Black people. With a long history of advocacy work, Phill is a well-known and respected national leader and HIV/AIDS expert. For five years, Phill was Chair of the Ryan White Planning Council and instrumentally involved in the crafting of the Ryan White CARE Act. He was also a member of the HRSA Advisory Council, the Board of Directors for AIDS Action, Co-Chair of the Los Angeles County HIV Health Commission and Director of Policy and Planning at AIDS Project Los Angeles. More recently, Phill was an opening-day plenary speaker at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. Phill is actively involved with other local and national community-based and AIDS service organizations, including serving on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
Franco Beneduce was awarded the Local Unsung Hero Award posthumously on World AIDS Day. Throughout his life, Franco was involved in LGBT causes and issues. He was the visionary creator and producer behind the annual Light in the Grove event at the Grove, and the Folsom Street Fair’s Magnitude after-hours dance party. He lived by the motto, “Go big or go home.” In the mid 90’s, Franco co-hosted Closet-Free Radio, one of the first commercial gay/lesbian radio talk shows in the country. He also produced Rhode Island’s AIDS Walk. He lived in the Bay Area for two decades, where he raised funds for and supported various LGBT nonprofits, including the Folsom Street Fair and the Grove. Franco was a creative genius, whose love of beauty was matched only by the magnificence of his heart. Besides his numerous creative achievements, Franco’s proudest accomplishment was the two boys he was helping to raise, and his extensive community of friends.
Financial scholarships ranging from $1000 to $2500 were awarded this year to nine college students from six states as part of the National AIDS Memorial Grove’s Young Leaders Scholarship Program, which culminates each year on World AIDS Day. The scholarships are funded annually through a generous grant provided by UnitedHealthcare. Two scholarship awardees, Laura Potter and Jose Comi, took the stage at the World AIDS Day Observance, and shared their perspectives on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the younger generation, and their goals as future leaders in the fight against the disease.
The Grove was deeply honored to celebrate the tireless and passionate work of Tim, Phill and Franco and their life-long commitment to the AIDS community, and the Grove’s mission. Their collective leadership has made a tremendous difference in the lives of so many people and organizations who have been touched and inspired by their pioneering spirit. Additionally, the Grove takes great pride in helping to develop the next generation of leaders through its Young Leaders Scholarship Program, and encouraging continued public service and careers that will one day lead to a cure.
We were delighted that Leader Nancy Pelosi joined us at our Community Volunteer Workday on Saturday, April 21st. Her visit to the Grove commemorated her twenty-fifth year as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Pelosi was first elected to the House in 1987 to represent California’s 8th Congressional District, which includes most of San Francisco. In 2002, she made history when she became the first woman elected to lead a major political party in Congress; in 2007 she became the first woman elected Speaker of the House.
In her first speech to the Congress in 1987, Nancy Pelosi famously said she came to the House of Representatives to fight AIDS. In those days, some people suggested that she might not want to become identified with that particular cause. But Pelosi wanted to share what San Francisco had learned about prevention and care with the rest of the country, referring to the “San Francisco model of care.”
Leader Pelosi helped enact legislation to assist in housing of people living with HIV/AIDS. She pushed to reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act, which assists thousands of low-income people in getting care and treatment. Her efforts to prevent drastic cuts in care and treatment for San Francisco have resulted in the restoration of millions of previously cut dollars from systems of care that people living with HIV/AIDS rely upon for access to medications and primary medical care. She is committed to ensuring that care, treatment, prevention and research initiatives receive funding increases. Pelosi continues fighting to expand access to care as part of comprehensive health reform. She has also led efforts to fund the global fight against AIDS. If all of that were not enough, Leader Pelosi was instrumental in passing the legislation in 1996 that designated our local “AIDS Grove” as this country’s National AIDS Memorial.
Representative Pelosi has faithfully commemorated her milestone years in Congress by volunteering at the Grove. On both her 10th and 20th anniversary years in Congress, she planted commemorative trees. Today, both these trees stand strong and graceful.
Thank you Leader Pelosi for the honor of commemorating yet another milestone year in Congress with us at the National AIDS Memorial Grove!
The purpose of the National AIDS Memorial Grove’s World AIDS Day Youth Scholarship Program is to engage youth to explore the ways they are touched by HIV/AIDS and the Grove. It is an essay contest for current high school sophomores, juniors and seniors, addressing the significance of HIV/AIDS and the National AIDS Memorial Grove in up to 750 words, and judged by a panel of experts from the community. This year, four scholarships of $1,000 USD were awarded, and winners were recognized at the Grove’s annual World AIDS Day observance on December 1, 2011.
Read some of the essays below:
Around the world, nearly 8,000 children die each day of hunger. Some starve. Some get sick and their hungry bodies are too weak to fight. Either way, the result is the same: another child dies every 10 seconds.
At our April 16 Community Volunteer Workday, the Grove was privileged to host a group of twenty-five youth from Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church’s Junior High Ministries. The youngsters were part of a much larger movement of students and youth groups all over the world making an effort to fight hunger and save lives by participating in World Vision’s 30-Hour Famine program. These students had chosen to spend the final four hours of their 30-hour fundraising fast—working at the Grove.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of students participate in this fast, going without food for 30 hours. They experience hunger firsthand to help feed and care for hungry children. They learn what it takes to stop hunger by raising monies to help feed and care for tens of thousands of children all over the world. Their eyes are opened to a world of hunger and hope, and their minds are filled with the understanding needed to fight poverty and injustice.
My name is Kushaba Moses Mworeko a 31 year old Ugandan.
It was my pleasure commemorating World AIDS Day 2010 with fabulous people who are very much concerned with this epidemic that has claimed millions and millions of people.
As an oldest child of the six children, I became the caretaker of the family at age 15 after losing my sister and my parents (Johosophat and Jovia Natukunda Mworeko) of HIV/AIDS in 1989, October 1992 and April 1995, respectively. These have become my heroes and I feel so proud talking about them while trying to save a few people. In 1989 and early 1990s the AIDS epidemic was rampant in the country because public awareness was low and because the health care system was not well equipped to deal with the spread of HIV/AIDS. This epidemic had caught like bush fire and had already registered devastating effects throughout Uganda. Death, death, and death was the order of the day. For instance, in the Rakai District, South Western Uganda, 70% of the adult population had vanished because of HIV/AIDS, leaving behind helpless orphans. But the cause of their deaths remained a mystery because many thought the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS were the result of spells from African witchcraft (juju). Photo by Todd Franson, Metro Weekly
I remember a witchdoctor coming home to save my sister but in vain. There was a musician, Philly Bongole Lutaaya who was already infected with the virus and decided to save his countrymen and future generation. At that time, in Uganda, the truth about the disease was concealed because the word SEX had to be mentioned which is a TABOO in our culture. But amidst discrimination and rejection, Lutaaya was determined to unveil and reveal the Truth that “AIDS was the killer and it was spread through SEX, and blood contact.”
The government came up with an awareness and education campaign on the epidemic with campaign messages from Philly Lutaaya’s music.
The following are some educational lyrics from his AIDS awareness song and album, “Alone”:
Today it’s me
Tomorrow someone else
It’s you and me
We’ve got to stand up and fight
We’ll take a light in the fight against AIDS
Let’s come on out
Let’s stand together, fight AIDS
In times of joy, in times of sorrow
Let’s take a stand and fight on to the end
With open hearts, let’s stand up and speak out to the world
We’ll save some lives, save the children of the world.
The government felt it was wise having these campaigns start in schools through music, dance and drama and then to families. I was so very involved in this awareness campaign and what hurt me most was that my family became the first victim. At first I didn’t believe it, but …I came to realize it as years went by when my other relatives and friends died.
I am deeply frustrated by what is going on in my country. With the Anti-homosexuality bill 2009 which seeks to introduce life in prison or the the death penalty for acts of ‘aggravated homosexuality’ and to criminalize the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality (giving it seven years in prison). And if the offender is a business or a non-governmental organization, its certificate of registration will be cancelled on conviction. Other provisions are; death for gays that are HIV positive and up to 3 years in prison for failure to report a homosexual. In other words, this bill makes everybody a potential criminal.
Thank you to John Cunningham, the Executive Director of the National AIDS Memorial Grove, who invited me to attend World AIDS Day 2010 and who honored me on that day. I believe that the more we together come forward and talk about it, the stronger we become in working out the its remedies.
I like Dr. George Ayala of MSMGF who said that “Every person deserves the right to fair treatment and freedom from persecution. The more we learn about HIV, the more we see that working to eradicate stigma, discrimination, and violence is essential to securing the right to health for MSM.
I hope whoever reads this will be touched and realize that HIV/AIDS is real and something needs to be done about it.
Here is the original message I sent to John the night before World AIDS Day,
Tomorrow December 1, is WAD. This day usually reminds me of Important people that I have lost to this epidemic. My parents and sibling (Dad, Mom, and Sister)- 1989, 1992 & 1995 respectively, my Uncles, Aunties, cousins and friends.
Everyone of us is either infected or affected. World AIDS Day is important for reminding people that HIV has not gone away, and that there is a lot still to be done.
According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 33.3 million people living with HIV, including 2.5 million children. During 2009 some 2.6 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 1.8 million people died from AIDS.
So, my appeal to you is, to stand with me tomorrow as we remember the loved ones we have lost and comfort the ones that are infected and continue to raise awareness on this epidemic.
Thank you so very much.
LIGHT AND SHADE
By Miguel Ochoa
The National AIDS Memorial Grove depicts the road that one encounters through AIDS with the light and shade that is naturally produced by the Grove. Throughout the AIDS journey, one is bound to face moments when they would like to disappear off into the shade and live in darkness.And then there are other moments that bring light and brightness back into ones life, again.
I can only imagine that living a life with AIDS would be a life filled with broken circles, broken communities, and broken lives. The circle of friends and family that you once had is now broken by those who turned their backs on you when you first notify them that you have AIDS.
There are some people out there who have no support system what so ever, and must go through the emotional, physical, and spiritual roller coaster of dealing with their new situation alone.
But I can also imagine, that when you surround yourself by those who truly do care about you, and build a new group of friends who are going through the same things as you are, the circles of your life start to mend. If you do build a group of friends to help you cope with AIDS, you are indeed lucky, as that will create a new circle and bring the light back to your life. Until there is a treatment to completely cure AIDS, the community around you, and those circles around you, will keep breaking.
The AIDS Memorial Grove represents this sorrowful cycle with its circles that are whole and other that are broken. There is even a tree that lies in the middle of a path, by the Circle of Peace, forcing people to climb over it. For me, the symbolic meaning of that one tree is that there are big obstacles that will get in our way, and one way or another, it is necessary for us to find a way to go over those obstacles, which in the end, will make us become stronger and will again bring us out into the light.
by Jeannel Miclat
“Stay still anak”. The mother spoke affectionately as she watched her son. He wiggled and twisted this way and that, as he lay on an old rusted table. He was her last and only child to survive. Wrinkles had finally caught up to the seemingly permanent youthful face of hers. She already lost her earlier children to unwanted friends: Malaria, Dengue, and Tuberculosis. She was not willing to lose her last hope to those plagues again. His possible savior: the vaccines his mother saved up for months to pay for.
“Just a little pinch,” the nurse smiled through her words as she prepared the needle. “Ready?” The little boy shut his eyes, clenched his fists and eventually nodded yes. “All done”, the nurse grinned.
The nurse looked back over her shoulder to see the concerned mother watching her clean the needles and gloves. The nurse broke the tension. “This is a very small and very poor clinic. We cannot afford many gloves or needles. But now we know what to do. There is nothing else to worry about.”
Throughout the world there are thousands of these tiny clinics. Not all of them know how, or can afford to sterilize medical tools that have been contaminated by bodily fluids that contain bacteria and viruses. This leaves many, many children exposed to HIV and eventually AIDS.
Since the early 1980’s, the worldwide HIV infection rate has risen exponentially to 33.4 million in 2008. The highest concentrations of infected people are in some of the poorest and most inadequately supplied regions: Sub-Saharan Africa, South-east Asia, and Latin America. HIV and AIDS has shown it doesn’t discriminate. It knows not your gender, your race, your sexual orientation, or your age. It only knows…you are a host, a possible victim and future statistic. Worldwide media campaigns and Public Services announcements have enlightened people on the transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS. But what if you don’t know? How will you protect yourself? Knowing it exists is not enough. Preventing is not enough. Treating is not enough. Curing HIV is when it will be enough.
by Rosa Reyes
One important lesson that I have gained through the processes of learning about HIV/AIDS, has been that anyone can get infected with HIV/AIDS. In this epidemic there is no age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status and even if you are not infected with the disease you can still be affected. For this reason, I can see the importance of bringing awareness through The National AIDS Memorial Grove.
When I first saw the subject for this essay I felt I was not going to be able to write it because I did not feel connected with the topic- I thought that this could never happen to me. Through research and learning more about HIV/AIDS I have come upon the realization that this is not true, because teenagers are very susceptible to getting an HIV/AIDS infection—especially if we are not educated and aware of the seriousness of what an HIV/AIDS infection is and how it is transmitted. I have also learned that the more aware and educated I become about this topic, the more I can protect myself and the people around me.
Just learning how to prevent the infection of HIV/AIDS is a big step to decreasing the number of people getting infected. If our society starts to put more focus in sex education the risks of young adults becoming infected will be less. This will provide people at risk with the information and choices: of using condoms consistently and correctly, being honest with your partner, abstinence, or delaying the first time one has sex. HIV counseling and testing, not sharing needles and treating sexually transmitted infections that will then lead to the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
Through all this, The National AIDS Memorial Grove plays an important role in bringing awareness to our community. The tragedy of HIV/AIDS brings people from different backgrounds together to learn and grieve with each other. It provides a sanctuary to those people who are going through the hardship of being infected with HIV/AIDS and to those who have had a dear one who has passed away due to HIV/AIDS. The National AIDS Memorial Grove also plays a vital role in maintaining public awareness of HIV/AIDS, as it reaches out to young people and brings them consciousness of this tragedy and its impact in our community.