Two nights ago, I went with Jeannine and friends Karen, Brian, and Margaret to the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst to hear a talk given by Cleve Jones, who is the originator of the idea for the NAMES Memorial Quilt, currently considered the largest community art project in the world, memorializing (to date) over eighty thousand people who have died from AIDS. (Full disclosure: Jeannine is the proud owner of a personal note from Cleve Jones congratulating her for her 2003 picture book, "A Name on the Quilt" -- a book inspired by her friend Karen's work helping to document the Quilt.)
Jones' talk was very enlightening and emotional, and I thank Jeannine for letting me know about it (and Karen for letting Jeannine know about it) and inviting me to come along. I already knew about some of the history he related, of his friendship with Harvey Milk, the early days of gay liberation and the initial spread of the AIDS epidemic, but it was powerful to hear it from someone who had been there, literally in the streets, at that time. And I never knew of the connection between the murder of Harvey Milk and the genesis of the AIDS memorial quilt project.
Jone's talk was lengthy but not at all tedious. He was passionate and inspiring. And it was refreshing to hear someone remind this audience of mostly younger people, mostly UMass students, that the recently almost-sainted former president Ronald Reagan was actually a miserable failure when it came to dealing with the epidemic which arose during his watch. (Here's a pithy article I found online about his -- and his administration's -- failure to do much of anything during those crucial early days.)
I highly recommend going to hear this man speak, if he comes to your area.
(I forgot to bring my good pocket camera with me to the event, so here's my slightly crappy iPhone photo of Cleve Jones during his talk. -- PL)