The Return of The AIDS Memorial Quilt: What Women Have to Do With It

By: Julie Rhoad, President/CEO
The NAMES Project Foundation/The AIDS Memorial Quilt


According to the CDC, at some pivotal point in her lifetime, one in 139 women will be diagnosed with HIV infection. For African American and Hispanic/Latina women, the numbers are far worse — 1 in 32 African American women and 1 in 106 Hispanic women. While the statistics are indeed startling, they point to a major reason the NAMES Project Foundation is bringing The AIDS Memorial Quilt back to Washington, DC this summer, starting this month.

Measuring more than 50 miles and weighing 54 tons and, thus, no longer able to be displayed all in one location at once, The Quilt’s journey to Washington for two major events spotlight a very current issue in dire need of renewed attention. Each one of the 94,000 names sewn meticulously into The Quilt is a testament to the fact that life in the age of AIDS is the story of us all — especially women.

Mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters, aunts, partners, daughters have played an integral role in panel making, rallying compassionate friends and families to stitch panels in honor of loved ones whose lives were taken by AIDS. And as the prevalence of the disease has evolved, women too are among the names sewn into Quilt panels themselves.

And then there are women who demonstrate leadership on the issue, on the Hill, and in the homes, like Dawn Averitt Bridge, the founder of National HIV Awareness Month, which permeates July as the international AIDS 2012 conference takes place in DC. And there is the DreamGirls’ Sheryl Lee Ralph who has crisscrossed the country mobilizing African American women to help stitch their stories into the magnificent tapestry o The Quilt, the world’s largest living folk art.

So while the Quilt comes to DC this summer and its panels are seen in segments across the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, our own Quilt In the Capital event and in 50+ additional venues throughout the metropolitan Washington area, it will serve as a wakeup call to all of us. Its role is not only symbolic, but intrinsic to spurring change in our communities.

With the tireless work of our staff and countless volunteers, our hope for this herculean effort to bring The Quilt back to Washington in a rare appearance is to elevate the decibels on the urgency for bringing an end to AIDS.  Please join us in Washington – in person or in spirit. We will share in a quiet prayer, then get back to doing what we do best — advocate, educate, support advances in HIV prevention and treatment until we can celebrate the day when we can say, this is The Last One.

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