First created almost 25 years ago, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and it’s parent organization, The Names Project, have come to symbolize not only this country’s efforts to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, but also humanity’s tendency to move toward healing and wholeness even in the face of unspeakable tragedy. The AIDS Memorial Quilt, now made up of more than 40,000 individual panels, is the largest public art project in the world. And, in the spirit of the centuries-old tradition of quilting, it has brought together rich and poor, black and white, male and female, straight and gay, and every possible human demographic and iteration possible. In mid-November 2010, StoryCorps Atlanta set up shop at The Names Project/AIDS Memorial Quilt National Headquarters for a day of recording.
Executive Director Julie Rhoad and Director of Communications Janece Shaffer organized a very successful day of on-site recordings. Ms. Rhoad gave her staff the day off so that the daily grind of the small, not-so-sound-proof office space would not interfere with the recording quality. When asked why this partnership with StoryCorps was so important to her she said, “… like the stories found on The AIDS Memorial Quilt, the stories StoryCorps has recorded ask us to consider how the truth of a life is reflected in the larger permanent truths of existence that we all share.”
Participant Jada Harris (pictured right) interviewed her friend Juanita Williams (pictured left) about living boldly and proudly as an African American woman with HIV. In fact, Ms. Williams said that HIV has had a positive impact on her life, as it helped her overcome addictions and redirect the trajectory of her life. She now is a passionate HIV activist and has enlisted the help of many – including her mom – to give out condoms and educate others about HIV/AIDS.
Later that afternoon, Roddy Williams (above right, and no relation to Juanita) interviewed his partner Will Roczkos (above left), about his mom’s difficult life. Will talked about how his mom was separated from her 10 children (and many of them from each other) during Hitler’s rule and she spent the rest of her life searching for them until, finally, many years later, the family was reunited.
The six stories recorded that day, while varied, had one thread in common. Each participant understood clearly the impact HIV/AIDS had in his or her life. The participants also spoke candidly of the importance of family (however one defines it), friends, and the twists of fate that intervene in one’s life.
It was an enlightening day and, once again, StoryCorps was proud to help those whose voices are seldom heard to share their story.