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Remembering Pedro

Eric Ciasullo

Eric Ciasullo

For 10 years, I've had the great privilege of serving on the board of directors of the National AIDS Memorial. In this last year of my service, I've set an extremely challenging goal of raising $10,000 for this powerful community of remembrance. My work on behalf of this organization has been dedicated to the scores of loved ones I've lost to AIDS, and especially to Pedro Zamora, a very dear friend and colleague who did more to educate young people about the dangers of HIV than anyone of his generation. (You might remember him as "Pedro" from the Real World: San Francisco, way back in 1994.)

Despite what we've been hearing for the last year, COVID-19 is not the first global pandemic in our lifetimes. HIV/AIDS holds that painful distinction, and for more than ten years it was the leading cause of death for whole populations in the US, and for many developing countries across the globe. Forty years after it's first appearance, we still have no vaccine, and we still have no cure. More than 700,000 Americans have died of HIV/AIDS, and more than 1.2 Million are living with it. Just like with COVID-19, HIV/AIDS has disproportionately impacted communities of color, and to a monstrous degree.

Almost 30 years ago, SF Bay Area volunteers created "The Grove" as a transcendent space where devastated communities could remember their lost loved ones; find resilience in one another's shared experience; and create with one another a sacred space, life rising spectacularly from the ashes of their common grief.

Less than five years later, with legislation introduced by Nancy Pelosi (now Madame Speaker), and signed by President Bill Clinton, "The Grove" was established in 1996 as The National AIDS Memorial. The National AIDS Memorial's 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. We will exist in perpetuity as a healing sanctuary, a voice for social justice, a repository of stories, a place for remembering all the lives lost, as well as all the lessons learned from the worst days of the epidemic. Well over 100,000 hours of volunteer service have fueled The National AIDS Memorial's development, maintenance, and growth. Despite being one of only thirty-one national memorials, we have never taken a dollar of government funding.

And last year we formally received the AIDS Memorial Quilt into our collection. Today, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is an epic 54-ton tapestry that includes more than 48,000 panels dedicated to more than 100,000 individuals. It is the premiere symbol of the AIDS pandemic, a living memorial to a generation lost to AIDS and an important HIV prevention education tool. With hundreds of thousands of people contributing their talents to making the memorial panels, and tens of thousands of volunteers to help display it, the Quilt is considered the largest community arts project in history. We will continue the extraordinary work that The Names Project did for the first thirty-five years of the Quilt's existence.

(Please read more about the National AIDS Memorial at aidsmemorial.org.)

Back to Pedro - in 2014, the National AIDS Memorial grew a young, local essay competition into a national scholarship program for young leaders dedicated to mitigating HIV and to addressing other urgent priorities in their communities and around the world. Dedicated to his memory, The Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship has awarded more than $500,000 in scholarships to more than eighty young leaders and activists. Without using any kind of weighted criteria, we've been thrilled that two thirds of our recipients have been young people of color, and more than a third have been the first in their family to attend college. With humility I'll say that I think Pedro would see a lot of himself in these young people, and that he'd be deeply moved to be held as an aspirational example for young leaders and activists, more than twenty-five years after his death.

We recently started a campaign to build an endowment for this scholarship, so that Pedro's life will be forever remembered, and so that the National AIDS Memorial will always be able to support young change makers responding to the most urgent issues of their time. Most of the funds that I raise this year will go toward that effort (which gets us back to that ambitious fundraising goal.)

Please join me in remembering all our neighbors, friends, and loved ones who've been lost to this global pandemic, and in supporting all those living with HIV. With all its complications, and still no cure. And while it might seem a little presumptuous to ask, please do it for Pedro, and for all young people dedicated to making the world a safer, healthier, and more equitable home for all of us.

Wishing you and yours health and happiness.

xo E


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