"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."
I have to admit , I have never known anyone personally who has died from complications of AIDS or being HIV Positive. To be even more frank , it's actually taboo to even really discuss the disease in the Haitian culture. It is labeled as something shameful and one of the diseases that many don't acquire much sympathy for. That is mainly because the thought process is as though "those people" were doing something wrong to contract such a disease. When I think of the height of the epidemic , ironically , Haitian people were among the several ostracized groups accused of introducing AIDS to the US , leading the problem. I can remember my aunt telling me , as a kid, to never donate blood because society had stigmatized my people to believe our blood wasn't of any use due to the discrimination from those believing every Haitian person carried the disease. Of course , that was plain ignorance and research has proven otherwise.
My first visual introduction to AIDS was watching Real World: San Francisco and being introduced Pedro. Pedro started off the season simply being himself. Seemingly , a man with a kind heart , great smile and an endearing accent. He was openly gay and later expressed to the cast , and to the whole world, that he had AIDS. I was young , so I can't say I completely understood the magnitude of his transparency but something told me it was a monumental moment in time captured in front of the camera lens. How could I shame someone I have now come to feel connected to after watching week after week? How could I not respect him ? How could I question or accuse him of wrong doing in order to have contracted this disease? Did it even matter at this point ? To me it didn't. Pedro was an activist and a person I wanted to survive , to continue to thrive and continue to spread his positive light. Unfortunately, Pedro lost his battle but in my eyes , he had indeed won the war. At least one of the many wars of making people realize that the victims of AIDS and HIV do not need judgement , hate or fear.They need love, support, care and comfort.
Volunteering at the National AIDS Memorial Grove provided another introduction to a community of activist, mourners and a group of people giving their time towards a project that will keep their love ones names alive and the voice of the voiceless. Through Hands On Bay Area, I registered and teamed up with a large group divided into sections to restore areas of the park where new memorials eventually will be placed. My group put down mulch , pulled weeds and removed dead trees to create a space of value.
It was hard work yet satisfying to be with others who were just as motivated to get the job done. After a couple of hours, we cleaned up and gathered at the "circle of friends"memorial. A beautiful open circle has about 2,400 names engraved of those effected by AIDS. Some of the names are of those who have died, their love ones, as well as donors to the grove. Some donors include celebrities such as the beloved Robin Williams and Tom Hanks ( if you haven't watched Philadelphia, you need to after reading this). We stood in a circle , hand in hand and many voiced the names of those they've lost and wanted to remember at that moment. I didn't have a name to speak so I just prayed. I prayed for God to continue to comfort everyone in pain and hoped that those who are gone felt comfort to see this group filled with love for the sake of them. It was beyond beautiful. I'm a thug , so duh I didn't cry but I could indeed feel the surge of emotions throughout that open space and the release of the sentiments of those surrounding me.
The heart of the grove provided me with such fulfillment and a connection the the fighters of the past, present and ready to stand with those in the future.
Educate yourself , Open your hearts , GET TESTED !
The National AIDS Memorial Grove
Address: Nancy Pelosi Dr and Bowling Green Dr , San Francisco, California 94122 ( located at the de Laveaga Dell in eastern Golden Gate Park)
Executive Director: John Cunningham
Every third Saturday of the month from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm ; March to October
Remaining Saturdays for the 2017 Calendar :