RISE Redux

{The Calgary Gay History Project is returning to our AIDS history series this week. In that vein, please spare a thought for AIDS activist Larry Kramer, who died of pneumonia yesterday at age 84.}

A highlight of Calgary’s 2019 Pride Festival was the gay history event “RISE.” The audience at the Plaza Theatre was honoured and moved by the passionate recollections of two heroes from the AIDS pandemic, Ruth Coker Burks and Cleve Jones. Afterward, one Calgarian exclaimed: “It was one of the most inspirational evenings I have ever attended.” I was very grateful to have emceed the event, which was manifested by Twisted Element’s Keon Brawn in collaboration with HIV Community Link.

Local videographer Patrick Monaghan was there with his camera and recently edited a video of the evening, which he has now uploaded to YouTube. I encourage you to watch or rewatch RISE; it’s a history lesson that reminds us of our shared humanity in the pressure cooker of this earlier pandemic.

Ruth

Ruth Coker Burks with the Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen

Ruth Coker Burks is perhaps better known as the Cemetery Angel. Ruth, a former caregiver of AIDS crisis victims, is an AIDS awareness advocate based in Arkansas. During the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, she used her salary as a real estate agent to care for AIDS patients whose families and communities had forsaken them. Due to prejudice, fear, and stigma surrounding the disease, she was often the patients’ only caregiver until their passing. She is also recognized for burying abandoned bodies in her own family cemetery in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Ruth, Cleve, Kevin

Cleve Jones (centre) sharing his recollections.

Cleve Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, which grew into one of the largest and most influential People with AIDS advocacy organizations in the United States.

In 1985, Jones then started The Names Project, which resulted in tens of thousands of people making quilt panels to commemorate those they had lost to the disease. Also known as the AIDS Memorial Quilt, thousands of panels at a time toured North America. The Canadian National Tour of the quilt stopped in Calgary in July 1989. The 1000 visiting panels were hung in layered sections in the Calgary municipal building atrium. Fourteen panels created in Calgary were added to the quilt during its pause in the city.

Thank you, Patrick, for documenting RISE and sharing this video!

{KA}

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