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Reflections from the Griot

By AJ

May 31, 2019

On Saturday, May 11th, The Griot Black History Museum in St Louis hosted a Community Prayer Breakfast to honor and recognize the caregivers and the legacy of those we’ve lost to HIV. This event was one in a series of events through their IMPACT HIV/AIDS INITIATIVE, the goal of which is to recognize and hold up the experience of the black community impacted by HIV.

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Robert Rayford’s death. Rayford was a young black man recognized now as the first individual to succumb to the effects of AIDS and passing in 1969. While our collective knowledge of his life is limited, it serves as a backdrop through which the Griot seeks to recognize some of the early supporters in the Black community of people living with HIV.

Those first years of the epidemic were full of confusion and driven by fear. The honorees all showed tremendous compassion and each stepped forward at a time when few would.

Deborah Patterson, head of the Red Cross at the time, quickly put together training for professionals and friends alike to provide competent care for those living with HIV. While at the Red Cross, she commissioned a series of posters to be used with their outreach efforts within the Black community. These posters will be a centerpiece of the upcoming exhibit.

Rudy Nickens was recognized for his contributions through the Sunshine Inn. The restaurant served as a meeting place and a launching point for the Minority AIDS Council, St Louis’ participation in the Ryan White Act, ACT UP St. Louis, and hosted all too many wakes.

Erise Williams Jr., one of the original founders of Blacks Assisting Blacks Against AIDS (BABAA) in the 1980’s, faced arrests for his civil disobedience, and continues to provide support to the community through Williams & Associates, a minority community-based agency addressing minority health disparities.

As an organization dedicated to advocacy, we talk frequently about using the power of your voice. We don’t, however, always emphasize the other important quality, which is listening. Understanding the collective stories helps to better inform our work around modernizing the unjust HIV laws in Missouri.

Please join us for the next installment in the IMPACT HIV/AIDS INITIATIVE, The Black Story of HIV, from Robert Rayford to Michael Johnson.