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The Center for AIDS and Humanity
Remembering the Past, Honoring the Heroes, Working for a Future Without AIDS

By Jeff Graham and Louise E. Shaw

January 2002

After nearly eighteen months of meetings, focus groups, and intense discussion, the 159 Center Partnership (AIDS Survival Project, AIDS Treatment Initiatives and Positive Impact) are pleased to announce the formation of the Center for AIDS and Humanity. The Center for AIDS and Humanity in Atlanta is a proposed "living museum" for the documentation, study, and interpretation of the global spread of the AIDS epidemic. By documenting and presenting the history of the AIDS epidemic to the public, the Center will serve as a memorial to the millions of people who have died during the epidemic. Although details are still being developed, the vision of The Center for AIDS and Humanity will include permanent display areas and administrative offices located at 159 Ralph McGill Boulevard in Atlanta. The 159 Center Partnership is working to create a multifaceted community center that will serve as the home of numerous agencies providing services to those living with HIV and agencies devoted to promoting an array of human rights issues.

A Living Museum

The AIDS epidemic is twenty years old. Although the spread of the HIV virus is preventable, this disease has continued its worldwide expansion. Unfortunately, systematic neglect by national and international governmental and non-governmental organizations has contributed to the proliferation of this epidemic. In nearly every region of the world, strategies for intervention, treatment, and prevention of AIDS has become politicized in response to the prevailing social prejudices of each particular region. Consequently, this epidemic has disproportionately impacted poor, uneducated, and/or disenfranchised populations.

The Center's primary mission is to document, advance and disseminate knowledge about this global tragedy with a special focus on the social and political aspects of AIDS; to articulate cross-cultural patterns that have been the defining features of the AIDS epidemic; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the AIDS epidemic as well as their own responsibilities as citizens to help to diminish the catastrophic impact of this health crisis.

The proposed Center for AIDS and Humanity aligns itself philosophically with other international museums of conscience by promoting tolerance and understanding. The Center will aim to stimulate dialogue on the pressing social issues that have been the result of the AIDS epidemic, and will encourage a global and humanitarian approach to dealing with the present and future ramifications of the disease. By dealing with racism, homophobia and the other aspects of intolerance the AIDS epidemic has revealed, the Center will address issues that far transcend the disease itself-thus making it a place for all people.

More Than an Exhibit

The Center for AIDS and Humanity will fulfill its mission through multifaceted programs: exhibitions, regular AIDS memorial commemorations, distribution of educational materials, oral history and archival projects, web sites, and a variety of public programming designed to enhance understanding of the AIDS epidemic and related issues.

As a major metropolitan center, Atlanta is a representative American city that has been deeply affected by the AIDS epidemic. As elsewhere, the epidemic has stimulated grassroots activism -- at first emanating from the gay community, and then expanding to Atlanta's many diverse communities. There are many local individual and organizational stories to tell. At the same time, Atlanta is a center for global activity in health, humanitarian, political and environmental research and action, and has many ties to the continent of Africa. The Centers for Disease Control, The Carter Center, and CARE are among the agencies headquartered in close proximity to Emory University, a major research center. Because of the city's many possibilities, the NAMES quilt commemorating over 80,000 people who have died of AIDS has been moved from San Francisco to be housed in Atlanta. Thus, Atlanta can place faces on the history of the AIDS epidemic by telling its own history. At the same time, it is a gateway to the international history of the epidemic, and is on the frontlines of dealing with the current global situation.

While one of the goals of the Center is to create an area in the 159 Center building for permanent exhibits, political gatherings and cultural events, input from community members has expanded the vision of the Center to intentionally pursue partnerships with other organizations. In addition to providing sources of information for the various projects of the Center, it is hoped that these partnerships will allow the various exhibits to travel into the community. Ultimately, the Center hopes to have a number of exhibits that can be made accessible at any given time to schools, churches, civic and service organizations, and private corporations.

From the Beginning: The Pilot Project

Although it could take years for the full vision of the Center to become a reality, the members of the initial steering committee felt that the true test of the Center lies in its ability to produce exhibits of meaningful content and high quality. Rather than waiting until all funding has been secured and the permanent staff hired, the decision was made to go forward immediately with plans for a first exhibit. Working with an advisory group, Dr. Saralyn Chestnut of Emory University and Louise E. Shaw, former Executive Director of Nexus Contemporary Art Center, have begun work on an oral history project that will document well-known and not so well-known heroes from the Black community in Atlanta who were AIDS activists, volunteers, health care providers and visionaries in the early days of the epidemic. Using the oral histories as a departure point, the goal of the project is to develop a well-researched, historically accurate, creative and versatile exhibition to introduce the Center for AIDS and Humanity to the public and demonstrate the potential of such an initiative.

Additional information regarding the pilot project will be made available in the coming months.

Bringing the Vision to Reality

The Center for AIDS and Humanity is looking for your support. As with any new idea or organization, the greatest need is for both human and financial resources. Members of the steering committee currently include individuals from AIDS Survival Project, Positive Impact, AIDS Treatment Initiatives, Emory University, the Center for Pan-Asian Community Services and community volunteers. The main focus of the steering committee is to secure the funding necessary to support both the pilot project, From the Beginning: African American Heroes and the AIDS Epidemic in Atlanta (working title only), and to build the foundation for a permanent Center for AIDS and Humanity. If you would like to join the steering committee, please contact Jim Struve at or leave a message at 404-373-2145.

The Wall of Remembrance

Designs for the physical space of the Center are still in the early stages. However, remembering the lives of those lost to AIDS will be central to the Center's mission. With that in mind, later this year we will be unveiling the Wall of Remembrance. The Wall of Remembrance will be displayed in a central area of the 159 Center building. Brass-plated plaques inscribed with the name, year of birth, and year of death of those we have lost fill the wall. If you would like to add a plaque to the Wall of Remembrance in memory of someone special in your life who has passed away, simply fill out the form located on the last page of Survival News or call the offices of AIDS Survival Project or Positive Impact. A donation of $50.00 or more is requested, with all proceeds directly supporting the work of the 159 Center and the Center for AIDS and Humanity.

This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

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