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The Youth Who Are Honoring Pedro Zamora's Legacy

The Youth Who Are Honoring Pedro Zamora's Legacy

The next generation of HIV activists may be the ones who finally end the pandemic for good.

It's an investment in the human spirit.

That might be the simplest and best way to describe the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship. Each year, the National AIDS Memorial awards 10 scholarships to support and spotlight the work of emerging young leaders who are active in the fight against HIV and AIDS on their campuses and in their communities; people who raise awareness and address issues of social justice, as its namesake did more than two decades ago.

Pedro was an AIDS educator, activist, and reality television pioneer who died in 1994 of an AIDS-related illness. At the time, he elevated the national discourse for his generation, inspiring countless new advocates through his leadership, bravery, and willingness to open his heart and share his story with millions of people around the world, particularly at a time when bigotry and discrimination regarding the disease were rampant.

A current scholarship recipient, Nestor Rogel, is an inspiring example of the young leaders assisted by the scholarship, and of the passion that Zamora embodied. A junior at California State University, Dominguez Hills, he plans to pursue a career in political organizing and advocacy, was born HIV-positive, and lost his mother to AIDS-related pneumonia.

Nestor was one of the scholarship recipients who shared his story at the memorial on World AIDS Day 2016. He spoke of how he made a promise to his mother when she died that he would work to empower and support youth living with HIV and AIDS. Nestor said that his journey so far has been filled with trials and tribulations, but that they inspire him to protect the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS so they will not have to face the same anguish he went through. The scholarship, he says, has helped open new doors in his life by helping him to continue his education and his service as an emerging leader in the epidemic.

Announcing on National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day that new applications for the scholarship are now being accepted was no coincidence. This is a critical time in our country with a great deal of uncertainty, and more young leaders are needed to advocate for issues important to the HIV and AIDS community.

Of major concern to this community today are the ongoing efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which could jeopardize health services for millions of people, particularly youth and people of color, as those populations are at greater risk of being infected with HIV.

The staff and board of directors of the memorial are particularly proud of the ways in which the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship amplifies the critical role that young people play in providing leadership today, and will continue to play in the years ahead.

More than $140,000 in scholarships have been awarded to nearly 50 students through the support of leading financial partners, especially Gilead, Wells Fargo and UnitedHealthcare, among others. Looking ahead, we envision the program evolving and expanding, much like the memorial itself.

Twenty-five years ago, the vision of the memorial was conceived out of a community's need to create a place for survivors to begin the healing process, a journey that continues to this day. The memorial also stands as a testament to the relentless will of a community to unite and persevere through unimaginable pain, loss, and tragedy. It remains a beacon of hope for the nation.

Although steeped in sadness and prejudice, the story of AIDS is rich with abundant lessons for younger generations as they confront their own social justice challenges. We believe that the next chapter of the AIDS story will be passionately authored and advanced by leaders like the recipients of the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship.

The scholarship continues to be an investment in the human spirit with inspiring returns.

To learn more or to submit an application for a Pedro Zamora scholarship, click here.

JOHN CUNNINGHAM is the executive director of the National AIDS Memorial, located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Applications for the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship are due May 31. For more information about the scholarship program and the National AIDS Memorial, visit

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