I was on the NAME PROJECT committee at North Shore Community College when we brought panels of the AIDS QUILT to campus in 1998. It is my recollection, The Names Project was not as organized as it is today, so we did not have a choice of whose panels would come. Nevertheless, we got a book filled with thousands of names and it was organized much like an old telephone book. Back then you could put the QUILTS on the ground and walk around them, now they can only be hang.
I remember looking out over the expanse of scultured cloth, wondering if someone had made my friend “Michael M” a Quilt. He had died in 1992. I wondered if his panel was there. I went to the podium were the big book sat. opened square in the middle. As I turned the pages looking for the M’s. There was as sticki-note tab that identified the name of the person, the number quilt and the panel if the indivivdual was there. the process of the search caused me to pause and realize each name represented someone who had died from the disease.
Turning the pages there it was. a tabe next to a name, and that name was “Michael M”. somewhere on the gym floor he was present.
On one hand, I was excited but on the other hand, I was overwhelmed not only by grief but guilt. You see, I had moved to Tulsa Oklahoma to go to Bible School and he died in the Boston area while I lived there. I never did get to say good bye. To be brutly honest, I had accepted what I was taught: AIDS was a curse from God and the (GAYS). I had met Michael at church and the last time I saw him, he told me he just couldn’t pray away the gay. so when I had heard he had AIDS and then heard that he had died at only 28 my grief was conditional predicated on what I believed at the time. By the time I was in College I had had a drastic change of heart because I was finally able to accept my own Same Gender loving Authenic self.
I wrote down the quilt number and set out to find his panel. When I found it, my knees grew weak, I smiled as tears streaming down my face because whoever had made that panel, captured Michaels love of shoes which spoke volumns about his personality! I felt like he was their with me in spirit as I asked him for forgivness, I felt a warmth come over me as though he was communicating I do forgive you Donna. The experience became yet another stepping stone in how I understand God’s relationship with people like michael and I on the fringe of our Christian Faith. Michael was a kind, funny compassionate man who loved life and loved God. That Day in the room with the QUILTS I reconnected with my friend who was free from the disease and alive with God!
Two Years ago, Phoenix Rising UCC partnered with the O Positive in Haverhill and we brought up six quilts as part of a festival in May of 2016. The event turned out to be so much more than we expected. The Names Project now is able to send Quilts per request and will do what they can to send panels which memorialize people from the area. That year the experience was eye opening to me as I met so many people who had never heard of the Quilt. then there was hearing the stories from familiy and friends who made appointments to view their loved one’s panel privately. By the end of the exhibit, like my story, their stories made them human and not just a piece of art or a statistic. What had amazed me the most, was that so many people had already fogotten and there were so many young people who never heard about it at all.
In January members of Phoenix Rising UCC started talking about that experience and decided to bring up the AIDS QUILT again this year the month of pride. The truth is HIV and AID are one disease. No symptions =HIV, Symptoms=AIDS. This past winter in the Merrimack Valley there was an up tick in HIV cases. This helped us make the commitment to memorialize the past and educate the future.
I hope you will consider coming to visit. We will be one of only two locations to Visit with remants of the AIDS Quilt in New England this Year
June 2 – 30 Exhibition Saturdays and Sundays 1pm – 6pm
Many people under the age of 40 have no memory of the AIDS epidemic. And yet it triggered a paradigm shift in the way people relate to one another. Victims, especially those in marginalized communities, were dying in such enormous quantities that they became numbers and statistics rather than individuals with lives and loves.
In the United States, since the beginning of the epidemic, the disease has claimed the lives of more than 675,000 people and even today, nearly 13,000 people with the disease die each year. The Quilt is a powerful visual reminder of the toll of AIDS; it is a memorial, a tool for education and the largest community art project in the world.
By revealing the humanity behind the statistics, The NAMES Project Foundation and The Quilt help teach compassion, triumph over taboo, stigma and phobia, and inspire individuals to take direct responsibility for their own well-being. It is a unique creation, uncommon and uplifting response to the tragic loss of human life.
“Phoenix Rising UCC is honored to again host eight 12’x12′ panels of the AIDS Memorial quilt this June as an educational outreach and fundraiser for the Phoenix Rising Community Center. The center was started in 2017 with programs and support groups for the LGBTQIA+.” Erica Lemire Committee Chair.
The exhibit will be presented at Phoenix Rising UCC’s Riverwalk location at 354 Merrimack Street Building 1, Door C 3rd Floor, Suite 332, Lawrence, MA.
It is FREE and open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays in June from 1-6 pm and by appointment throughout the month.
The NAMES Foundation will endeavor to supply panels that are connected to the New England region and will also include panels that honor the well-known personalities: performer Liberace, AIDS activist and MTV Real World star Pedro Zamora, and Elizabeth and Ariel Glaser, the founder and inspiration of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Everyone is invited to attend a special opening ceremony will begin at 4 pm on June 2.
Please visit Phoenix Rising’s website at Phoenixrisingucc.org for a full listing of additional Quilt related special events.
Through such displays, the NAMES Project Foundation has raised over $3 million for AIDS service organizations throughout North America Support the upcoming exhibit in Lawrence, MA and the Phoenix Rising Community Center, and make donations by going to the Names Project though their website: https://www.aidsquilt.org/ or to make a donation to PRUCC community center: Checks can be made to Phoenix Rising UCC and donate online by text PRUCC to 77977call (978) 891-5799.
Phoenix Rising UCC is a Christ-centered community that celebrates belonging to God and each other. In the spirit of God’s love, we recognize the uniqueness of ALL people and all abilities; all nationalities and all races; all genders and all sexualities; the weak and the strong; the rich and the poor; the stranger and the immigrant; the believer and the doubter. All are welcome here!
FOR MORE INFO of if you would like to volunteer:
CONTACT: Erica LeMire (603) 819-9068 or Donna Spencer Collins (781) 910-0284