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Iowa City memorializes those who died of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses during IC Red Week

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IC Red Week: The Reading of the Names

Old Capitol — Friday, Nov. 30, 6:45 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.

Panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt on display at the Old Capitol Museum. Nov. 29, 2018. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Memorializing the dead by speaking their names is usually a very personal act, but sometimes it’s also a political one. The recitation of names on the steps of the Old Capitol on Friday will combine both those aspects.

From sunrise until sunset, volunteers will read out the names of people who’ve died from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. The reading of the names is a traditional part of IC Red Week, a weeklong series of events to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS leading up to World AIDS Day on Saturday, Dec. 1.

“It’s all through The Names Project,” said Chelsea Higgins, the executive director of IC Red, the University of Iowa student group that coordinates IC Red Week.

IC RED Week

Until sunset, volunteers standing on the steps of the Old Capitol will read aloud names from the AIDS Memorial Quilt as part of Red Week, which culminates in World AIDS Day on Saturday.The event is sponsored IC RED, a University of Iowa student organization dedicated to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.Full story: https://bit.ly/2FNoElO

Posted by Little Village Mag on Friday, November 30, 2018

UI has hosted Red Week events since 2012, but until this year, the organizing was always done by student volunteers on an ad hoc basis. This the first year that IC Red has been an official student organization. The group plans to conduct events throughout the year, beyond just Red Week, Higgins said.

The Names Project grew out of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, panels of which are on display through Saturday at the Old Capitol Museum and one at Public Space One.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is now a familiar part of American culture — and has inspired other public memorial quilts, including ones for breast cancer and U.S. service members killed in Iraq — but according to Cleve Jones, when he first came up with the idea for a quilt with panels memorializing people who died from AIDS-related diseases, it was difficult to make people understand what he was talking about.

In his 2016 book, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement, Jones said he was attracted to quilts, because of their handmade and composite nature. “It spoke of castoffs, discarded remnants, different colors and textures, sewn together to create something beautiful and useful and warm,” Jones wrote.

I imagined families sharing stories of their loved ones as they cut and sewed the fabric. It could be therapy, I hoped, for a community that was increasingly paralyzed by grief and rage and powerlessness. It could be a tool for the media, to reveal the humanity behind the statistics. And a weapon to deploy against the government; to shame them with stark visual evidence of their utter failure to respond to the suffering and death that spread and increased with every passing day.

Despite the “blank stares or rolling eyes” that met Jones whenever he talked about his idea, he and a friend started work panels, designed to be the size of graves. “We made a list of 40 men whom we felt we had known well enough to memorialize, and we began painting their names on blocks of fabric,” Jones said.

The quilt was first displayed at the June 28, 1987 Gay Freedom Day Celebration in San Francisco. It instantly struck a chord with the people who saw it, and the next year, Jones began touring the quilt around the country.

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“In city after city, the quilt was unfolded as the centerpiece for locally organized education and fundraising efforts, and we witnessed the extraordinary ability of ordinary Americans to rise and meet the new challenge,” Jones wrote.

People began submitting panels in memory of friends and family members lost to AIDS. From its original 40 panels, the quilt has grown large enough to cover the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with more than 49,000 panels, commemorating over 100,000 people. It’s their names volunteers, working in five-minute shifts, will be reading on Friday.

“We normally don’t get through all of them,” Higgins said. “But we try our best.”

As of publication time, about a dozen five-minute reading shifts are still open for Friday; all are encouraged to participate. Local figures such as at-large Iowa City Council member Bruce Teague, UI President Bruce Harreld, Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton and state Sen. Joe Bolkcom have signed up to read names.


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