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New Initiative Honors People of Color Lost to HIV

Paras Griffin/Getty Images

"Change the Pattern" is weaving the memory of Black and brown people into the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Fifty-two percent of all HIV diagnoses occur in the American South. The HIV epidemic continues to disproportionately affect people of color in Alabama — where Black folks are more than seven times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV than white people, and five times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than Latinx individuals. The Black community comprises only 26.5 percent of Alabama’s total population, however, accounts for a staggering 71.8 percent of new HIV cases. It’s also estimated that one in every six people living with the virus in the state are not even aware of their status.

It’s disheartening numbers like these that prompted “Change the Pattern” — an initiative created by a partnership between the National AIDS Memorial, the Southern AIDS Coalition, and Gilead Sciences to raise awareness about HIV and its continued impact on communities of color and marginalized populations in Alabama and throughout the South.

courtesy National AIDS Memorial

A volunteer works on a new panel to be added to the AIDS Memorial Quilt

In November, community members in Montgomery came together to create new panels for the AIDS Memorial Quilt to honor the many Black and brown lives from Alabama who were lost to the AIDS epidemic. Over 75 sections of the quilt were displayed in Montgomery (chosen as the quilt’s site specifically because Montgomery County has the highest rate of HIV diagnoses in Alabama) and other nearby communities from November 30 to December 4. The five-day, multi-location exhibition coincided with World AIDS Day (December 1) was the largest ever of the quilt in the state.

Our cover star and longtime HIV advocate and fundraiser Sheryl Lee Ralph is serving as a celebrity ambassador for the initiative. She recently released a powerful public service announcement about the importance of the program, which you can watch below or on YouTube.

“The stories of Black and brown lives lost to AIDS have not always been told,” says Ralph in the PSA. “But now we are changing the pattern, gathering and sharing the inspiring stories of our community’s lives.”

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