The chime of three bells rang out over a hushed crowd, cluttered in close around the verdant memorial garden. One by one, four voices around the circle read aloud a list of names in memoriam. Each name was an entry in the last class of names etched forever in remembrance in the stone Circle of Friends on World AIDS Day this month.
The National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park was founded 25 years ago, with the Circle of Friends memorial created three years later.
Of the nearly 3,000 names in the circle, John Cunningham, executive director of the Grove, estimates that 85 percent are those who have died of AIDS, while other names include friends, families, celebrities, and advocates who have been affected by the illness.
“The Circle is created by those who are grieving, for those who are lost, and through that process, to provide hope for those who survived,” Cunningham says.
With an average of 150 names added each year to the circle, the memorial’s board members projected 2016 would be the year that the circle approached capacity, so they ensured that the community knew to get their names submitted this year if they wanted them included in the filling memorial.
They added about 50 more names than usual this year to close it out and are actively pursuing additional projects to keep adding names to other areas in the Grove.
“I think perhaps it’s fitting that the Circle of Friends is filled up, but the fight is not over,” Cunningham says. “This is one of the most prolific and profound pandemics that has affected our earth. Twenty-three years ago, no one thought there would be 35 million deaths worldwide. This organization will continue to look and explore how we can continue to memorialize names in other ways.”
Available for viewing in January 2017, “Stories From the Heart” will be an interactive online memorial that will feature videos, photos, and stories provided by loved ones at AIDSmemorial.org.
The organization is also exploring the possibility of installing memorial bricks with names lining the paths and trails surrounding the Circle of Friends, as well as implementing digital memorials within the Grove.
Regardless of how board members decide to continue memorializing those affected by the names, the Grove will continue to vary from traditional memorials.
“Think of any other memorial you know. Most are made after the fact. The fight against AIDS is still going on today and there aren’t other memorials that were built during the ongoing struggle,” Cunningham adds. “The circle represents a number of broken circles who have come together in a joint circle of hope. That’s what wraps the circle.”