SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 1, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- As people from around the world came together to commemorate World AIDS Day, the National AIDS Memorial brought together more than 1,300 friends, loved ones and supporters for two-days of events to pay tribute to the lives lost, inspire remembrance, healing and convey an important message of hope for the future.
The events marked 25 years ago since a small group of San Francisco residents representing a community devastated by the AIDS epidemic gathered in a dilapidated grove in Golden Gate Park to restore it and create a serene place where people seeking healing could gather to express their collective grief through a living memorial, an AIDS memorial. Those efforts helped build a movement, where five years later legislation spearheaded by U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi and signed into law by President Bill Clinton that designated "the Grove" as the national memorial for HIV/AIDS.
Today, nearly 25,000 volunteers ranging from the very young to the elderly have donated more than 150,000 hours to help maintain the Grove, clearing overgrowth, reintroducing native species and planting new trees, plants and shrubs to ensure this treasured memorial continues 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.
"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," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who spearheaded the legislation. "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."
On the eve of World AIDS Day, much of the memorial's ten acres was beautifully illuminated during "Light in the Grove," an event honoring those who have died while also celebrating the spirit of light and life. Guests experienced a candlelight reflection at the Circle of Friends and the evening included special musical and choreographed artistic performances, including a medley of Sylvester's songs performed by the renowned Jeanie Tracy. Alvin Baum of San Francisco received the "Lifetime of Commitment" award for his decades of unwavering philanthropy, activism and leadership in support of HIV/AIDS, LGBT communities and civil liberties.
World AIDS Day ceremonies were held in the Grove's meadow to reinforce the link between the San Francisco community's historical significance in the epidemic and the National AIDS Memorial as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.
"As we gather in this beautiful meadow, we pay tribute to the lives lost to this pandemic," said John Cunningham, Executive Director of the National AIDS Memorial. "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."
The tribute focused on 'hearts rising' where Jeanne White-Ginder, AIDS activist and mother of the late Ryan White, accepted the Thom Weyand Unsung Hero Award on behalf of the national Hemophilia community, 50% of which perished between 1980 - 2010 due to a tainted blood supply. Paul Kawata, executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council also received the National Leadership Recognition Award for his work to building leadership in communities of color to address the challenges of HIV/AIDS.
The National AIDS Memorial, in collaboration with HIV Story Project, also unveiled a series of personal video stories that capture the vast and diverse voices of the epidemic through personal stories by survivors aimed at inspiring future generations. This year, those personal stories focused on the horrific plight of the Hemophilia community and the tragedy and loss caused by a tainted blood supply. A first-ever "Powering Through" panel discussion was also held, bringing together leaders in the national Hemophilia community to discuss the need for a feature in the National AIDS Memorial to commemorate those infected by the blood contamination crisis and the ongoing processing of and healing from the disaster.
"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."
Recognizing that today's youth will ensure past generations are never forgotten, ten college students from around the country were awarded scholarships as part of the National AIDS Memorial Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship Award Program to pursue their education and for their active commitment to fighting AIDS and taking on roles of public service and leadership in the community.
The World AIDS Day ceremony concluded with supporters gathering for the reading of the names of those engraved this year into the Circle of Friends, which is now at capacity.
For more information about the National AIDS Memorial Grove, its mission, programs and services, visit www.aidsmemorial.org or call (415) 765-0497. Click HERE to view a special World AIDS Day video with a touching tribute by friends of the Grove. Click HERE or photos and video from Light in the Grove and World AIDS Day events.
SOURCE National AIDS Memorial Grove