On December 1, our community gathers again within the warm and safe embrace of the National AIDS Memorial for the annual World AIDS Day observance.
The joining together of so many who have gone through so much provides an opportunity for deep reflection and remembrance as individuals and as a community.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1991, a small group of San Francisco residents, representing a community devastated by the AIDS epidemic, gathered in a dilapidated grove in Golden Gate Park to restore it and create a serene place where people seeking healing could gather to express their collective grief through a living memorial, an AIDS memorial.
The power found within that grieving community had an important, lasting impact in helping create a space within our national landscape for remembrance and healing.
Just five years later, in 1996, their work, rooted in love of community, resulted in U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi spearheading legislation that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton designating "the Grove" as the national memorial for AIDS.
Today, nearly 25,000 volunteers ranging from the very young to the elderly have donated more than 150,000 hours to help maintain the Grove, clearing overgrowth, reintroducing native species and planting new trees, plants and shrubs. Their dedication and commitment has a simple goal: to ensure that this treasured memorial continues to provide, in perpetuity, a place of remembrance so that the lives of people who died from AIDS are not forgotten and the story is known by future generations.
As we remember so many beautiful loved ones taken so early from us we must also never forget how far we have come and vow to never return to a time when so many felt ignored, neglected, and forgotten by a government and much of a nation who chose not to respond to the needs of their fellow citizens.
This lack of compassion found its roots in prejudice, stigma, and discrimination. In the face of tremendous loss, so many stood up remembering those lost, while at the same time fighting for those struggling to survive.
It is not only our responsibility but also our legacy to inform those who follow in our footsteps and to share the stories of strength, love, action, and power generated through nurturing each other and taking an active role in the 240-year experiment that is America.
As the National AIDS Memorial looks to the quarter century ahead we pledge ourselves as the only federally designated memorial to AIDS to secure and share the stories of those lives lost and to inform future generations of the historical lessons learned.
Today, we honor our loved ones no longer with us and recommit ourselves to never forget from where we have come, what we accomplished together, and the work that still lies ahead.
JOHN CUNNINGHAM is the executive director of the National AIDS Memorial, located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. For more information about the National AIDS Memorial Grove, its mission, programs and services, visit www.aidsmemorial.org.