To celebrate Black History Month, the National AIDS Memorial will host an exhibition to honor the Black lives that were lost to AIDS.
The exhibition will feature the AIDS Memorial Quilt that will have 56 blocks that show “stories of resilience, healing, hope and remembrance represented in each panel,” according to a press release by the National AIDS Memorial.
“Our hope is that it helps raise greater awareness about the ongoing struggle with HIV and the impact systemic barriers have to positive health outcomes, particularly among the Black community,” said John Cunningham, executive director of the National AIDS Memorial, in the press release.
The exhibition is free to the public and can be viewed at AIDSmemorial.org through March 31. All 48,000 panels of the Quilt are featured and visitors can search for the names of loved ones who have a panel made in their memory.
Black Americans and communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by AIDS in the 40 years since the first cases were reported, according to the National AIDS Memorial. HIV was the leading cause of death for Black men between the ages of 25-44 in 1993, and by 2004, HIV became the leading cause of death for Black women as well.
In 2018, Black Americans made up 42% of the nearly 38,000 new HIV diagnoses in the U.S., with half of those living in southern states, the National AIDS Memorial also writes.
“Today, Black Americans face the highest impact of HIV/AIDS compared to all other races and ethnicities,” said Raniyah Copeland, the president and CEO of Black AIDS Institute. “This highlights the need to center Black and LGBTQ people in the fight to end the epidemic.”
“By sharing these powerful stories from the Quilt, we can continue to advocate for Black people living with HIV, defy stigma, and create awareness around prevention and treatment options available today that can end HIV in Black communities over the next decade,” Copeland adds in the press release.
The idea of the Quilt is to honor loved ones who died from AIDS to preserve their stories, memories, and hopes in each panel, according to Gert McMullin, the National AIDS Memorial Quilt conservator.
Some of the stories include Black children as well. One panel honors 2-year-old Alexzandria that shows a photo of her holding a teddy bear, Big Bird and a poem written by her mother Charlene, who says she “pours her grief into the poems and stories she has been writing since Alexzandria died,” National AIDS Memorial writes.
A boy named “Dougie,” who died at the age of 8, is remembered by his mother who created the panel that includes a painting of him from a photo taken when he met musical artist Ice-T.
Black celebrities who lost their lives to AIDS brought awareness to the pandemic by using their work and connection to people, National AIDS Memorial writes. One panel was made for Sean Sasser, an AIDS activist who appeared on MTV’s “The Real World: San Francisco,” and shares his relationship with Pedro Zamora, which helped open hearts and minds to LGBT issues and those living with HIV/AIDS.
Other celebrities include “Sylvester” James, Eazy-E, Max Robinson, Arthur Ashe and Willi Smith, with records, CDs and photographs sewn onto the panels.
Black military men are also featured. They are shown wearing their uniforms to honor their service, according to the National AIDS Memorial. George Gramby, who helped people overcome substance abuse and formed a program called “Beginnings” that is still active today, is one of them. For more than 25 years, Morristown, New Jersey has held an annual day in his memory.
Partners for the Black History Month AIDS Memorial Quilt Virtual Exhibition include the Black AIDS Institute, Gilead Sciences, Vivent Health, and national leaders in the fight against AIDS.