AIDS Memorial Quilt chapter, display comes to Michiana
By KATE STEER
Associate News Editor
Imagine an area as big as 25 football fields. Imagine walking through that space and taking in a small piece of the lives of 42,960 people.
This is the number of people represented by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which was started in 1987 by the NAMES Project Foundation.
The project was conceived by friends and family of those who had died of AIDS. As a way to remember those lost, the project grew rapidly in recognition and so did the quilt. The first time the quilt was displayed in October of 1987, it contained 1,920 names and covered an area less than the size of a football field. Today, the entire display does not fit on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C.
One of the panels honors the memory of Jeff Goode, a South Bend native who died from AIDS in March 1995. But Goode's memory lives on in more ways than this. Nardis Goode, Jeff's sister, is an AIDS activist in the Michiana community. She helped her brother through his eleven-year battle with the disease and now works to raise awareness and promote prevention.
Goode works closely with other activists, like John Roxy, to establish responsibility and education. Roxy is currently working to establish a local chapter of the NAMES Project.
Roxy's goal of involving the community to contribute panels from the area to the project stems from a desire to encourage awareness and a coming together.
"[The quilt] is something three-dimensional to say `Hey, it's still here'," he said. "We use the textile as a way of healing, education and prevention so it will never happen again."
The quilt's enormity is due to the near epidemic proportions of the AIDS disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 33.6 million people worldwide live with HIV or AIDS; 5.6 of these became infected in 1999. Despite these overwhelming figures, the quilt represents only about 20 percent of U.S. AIDS deaths.
St. Joseph's county is the third highest in the state in infection rates, Roxy said.
Though the U.S. faces a growing infection rate, the problem is far worse in Africa, said Goode.
"6,000 a day die from AIDS in Africa," she said. "It's a daily holocaust."
Conversely, Europe has the lowest infection rates, which Goode said is due to their mandatory education.
"Prevention is the only way to stop it," she said.
Roxy and Goode have different ideas on the best approach to reducing the infection rates and preventing further loss. Roxy advocates abstinence, which is the only way to ensure that one does not contract the virus.
"Committed, loving relationships work in prevention," he said.
If abstinence is not feasible, Goode urges people to listen to the second part of Roxy's message: "You can have as many relationships as you want as long as you know how to manage your body fluids," she said. "You can't pass judgement about behavior. Regardless of the circumstances, you have to be responsible for body fluids."
Both Goode and Roxy said that not only can education and effort stop the spread of the disease, but they propose that the spread could have been halted in 1986. It was then that the virus had been identified and publicized. As a result, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop commissioned a mailing to every U.S. household describing the contraction of the virus and what steps should be taken to prevent its spread. Had this warning been heeded and continuous education supported, the world would not be facing the AIDS crisis it does, they said.
"There are two crises in the United States regarding this disease. One is prevention: there is none. There is no mandate for education. The second is the care of the people infected. Funding and services are almost null," said Goode.
Goode also said that because the disease has been in the public domain for so long, it has adapted to the human body's defenses and medical treatments for the disease. As a result, the virus mutates quickly.
"The average infected person has 11 different strains of the virus," she said.
These mutations also make the virus harder to detect.
"I am certain that there are people walking around these campuses who are infected but don't know it."
Roxy cites the quilt as a form of education that can and does work in a preventative capacity. The goal of establishing a Michiana chapter is not to produce more panels, but to prevent people from needing to contribute to the quilt.
"Let's get to the point where you're not a statistic, where you're not spending thousands of dollars to keep you alive, to the point where you're not a quilt panel," he said.
Roxy is holding meetings to establish the NAMES Project chapter on the third Thursday of each month, from 6:30–9 p.m. in 300 University Health Services.
"We're going to be having sewing bees, making the panels, which are 3'x6'. We're also going to be doing a local project where we're going to be making smaller panels, 16"x20" which will stay here in the community," Roxy said. The smaller panels will be loaned to various organizations for display.
Parts of the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be brought to South Bend graduation weekend as part of the 17th Annual International Candlelight Memorial and Remembrance Service on May 21.
All News Stories for Friday, April 14, 2000