|Hope for an AIDS-Free Generation|
by Kate Stewart, Executive Vice President for Public Affairs
“It is not really a quilt, it is something more. It is hope and it is love.” – Bridget, 9 years old
“You can't describe the quilt. It is more than fabric, more than names in marker. It's hope. A bittersweet remembrance of those that have lost their lives. When someone hands you a piece of the quilt, you need to take good care of it. Because it matters.”--- Maya, 12 years old
This morning as the rain poured down, I woke my two daughters – Bridget and Maya. They protested – “Mom, it’s summer vacation!” “It’s raining!” But, today was an important day: the day that the AIDS Memorial Quilt returned to Washington DC for the first time in almost 20 years. And I want to share this moment with my daughters.
We arrived at the National Mall before it was even fully light. Despite months of planning, it was raining. (Some things are just out of your control!) The rain isn’t as hard as before – but constant enough that plans for the massive undertaking of unfurling the Quilt were being reevaluated. Volunteers slowly began making their way to the meeting place. The rain stopped for a bit; then started again. The opening ceremony begins and, with plastic tarp laid down to protect the Quilt, we are lucky to watch the panels as they begin to unfold.
As I held my daughters’ hands and we looked at the Quilt, I found myself thinking that the past, present and future are all around us. We are here to remember those we have lost, or as someone recently said to me, “those who have transitioned.” Our family recalls loved ones who succumbed to the disease. We see the present as we talk with friends and colleagues from around the world who everyday live with HIV, fight stigma, and work to educate, prevent and treat HIV and AIDS. Surrounded by young people, and especially as I look at my daughters, I feel hope for the future. For an AIDS-free generation – a generation that does never has to know what it is like to fight against HIV and AIDS.
We can get there, but we must make the commitment not to stop until the last one. The last new infection, the last child orphaned, the last person to face stigma, the last person to mourn the loss of a loved one to the disease.
What is the path to follow to get to the last one? We must recognize young people’s right to accurate and complete sexual health information and confidential, affordable health care services. We must respect young people— and ensure them a seat at the table when decisions about their lives and future are made. Finally, we will not get to the last one, unless we pressure our government and our society to live up to the responsibility we all have to ensure young people are provided with all of the tools they need to safeguard their sexual and reproductive health.
This morning, as I looked at my daughters and all the young people who come to unfold the AIDS Memorial Quilt, achieving an AIDS-free generation seemed more possible than ever. Even in the rain.