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Making Connections with Other AIDS Memorials

Tony Valenzuela with John Cunningham, Executive Director of the National AIDS Memorial Grove

Last month I had the great pleasure of meeting John Cunningham, executive director of the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco. The beautiful 10-acre site in Golden Gate Park became a federally-designated national memorial in 1996, making it one of the oldest AIDS memorials in the country. John and some of his board and staff were delightful hosts. We talked about our shared missions as AIDS memorials, and began to brainstorm ways we might support and promote each other’s work in the future. While at The Grove, I felt lucky to participate in their Community Volunteer Work Day. I, along with over 100 other volunteers, spent the morning helping lay mulch, pull weeds, scrub stones, clear debris, and plant new trees and shrubs. Being connected to nature while tending to this serene section of the park which serves as a memorial to the thousands that died of HIV/AIDS in the Bay Area was a moving and powerful experience. I’d like to thank John Cunningham and his team for bringing community together to remember lost loved ones and to remind us why this work is still vitally important. 

I have, in recent weeks, also connected with leaders of other memorials around the country including Dave Harper, the new executive director of the New York City AIDS Memorial, Jason Plourde, the Project Manager of the forthcoming AIDS Memorial Pathway in Seattle, and my local colleague and friend, Richard Zaldivar, of The Wall Las Memorias. In our positions we are all stewards of a painful history creating spaces for remembrance, celebration and education. I’m happy to know there’s a growing community of support for AIDS memorials. When STORIES: The AIDS Monument opens in 2021, we will be stronger by the ties that bind us to these other sacred sites.

Interested in learning about other AIDS Memorials? Check out this article by AIDS scholar, Theodore Kerr, about how we memorialize AIDS in the midst of an ongoing HIV epidemic.

-Tony Valenzuela, Executive Director