December marks the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day and the 15th anniversary of the founding of the New York Capital Region Chapter of the NAMES Project AIDS memorial quilt.
These anniversaries were celebrated Saturday afternoon, Dec. 1, at an event recognizing key local individuals who helped found the local chapter of the NAMES Project. Robert Curry, senior vice president for External Affairs at Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, was among those recognized.
In 1987, The NAMES Project Foundation was established in San Francisco by a group of family and friends determined to remember the lives, and carry on the legacy of those lost to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The memorial quilt is now 54 tons; with 48,000 panels honoring 94,000 individuals.
Curry’s first involvement with the foundation came when he volunteered to assist with the major display of the quilt in Washington, D.C. Subsequently, he became a display coordinator and traveled across the nation to help with displays in many different cities. During those years, AIDS was also spreading rapidly across Africa and Curry was responsible for arrangements to bring a section of the quilt made in Uganda to the United States for a viewing tour.
Curry was the primary founder and first board president of both the New Jersey and Capital Region chapters of the NAMES Project and made his own contribution to one of the first sections of the local chapter quilt.
“It was a wonderful experience to start the local quilt and bring the chapter here,” said Curry in a release from Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood. “Helping to create a section is a very emotional experience. The work starts as a reflection of your own personal connections to those infected and affected by the disease, but quickly forces you to connect to the tremendous numbers of people who have been touched by HIV and AIDS in our state, our country, and the world. Still, we remember that the quilt only represents a small percentage of that population.”
Curry sees his work with the NAMES Project as a natural extension of his work at Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood.
“UHPP was a very early provider of HIV testing and counseling services, as well as HIV awareness education,” explained Curry of human immunodeficiency virus. “The agency has worked in collaboration with a wide range of health and human service agencies to promote safer sex practices; medically accurate and comprehensive sex education starting at an early age; and non-judgmental, confidential and affordable medical services. UHPP has a strong history of work to promote and protect funding for HIV/AIDS education and services and played a key role in the establishment of the Northeast HIV Prevention Network and the Capital District Take the Test Coalition. ”
This year’s Planned Parenthood World AIDS Day theme is Working Toward the Healthiest Generation and the agency has been working with local student groups on prevention education activities.
Curry hopes the event will remind people that “the epidemic is still with us and that there is both good and bad news.” He went on, “The good news is that people are living longer and that many who develop HIV are able to prevent a transition to full-blown AIDS. The bad news is that, after 25 years, many people think the risk has gone away and therefore do not educate or protect themselves. Young people and women of color have joined those populations who are still seeing high rates of infection and we still haven’t discovered a cure.”