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AIDS Memorial Quilt includes display for IU alumnus



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IU's AIDS Memorial Quilt Committee presents the 30th anniversary ceremony of the quilt on Tuesday in Alumni Hall. The committee spoke about the myths and facts of HIV.  Xiaoan Guan Buy Photos

The names of over 2,300 lives lost to an AIDS-related illness were read aloud by volunteers Tuesday night in Alumni Hall at the Indiana Memorial Union. 



Observers paced quietly among the 26 blocks of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on display in the hall as the names echoed in the background. 

IU’s AIDS Memorial Quilt Committee brought the quilt to IU for the first time since 2007. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the quilt's creation. 

The quilt began in 1987 in San Francisco as a way to commemorate lives lost to HIV/AIDS. Today, the entire quilt weighs 54 tons and is made up of 5,956 blocks.

Each block is 12 by 12 feet and made up of around eight panels. Most panels commemorate one life lost to HIV/AIDS but some commemorate hundreds.

The blocks will be on display  from 4-11 p.m. each day until Nov. 16 in Alumni Hall. 

Each evening at 7 p.m., the display includes an event like spoken word artist Timothy DuWhite, a panel of people in the Bloomington community who have been affected by AIDS and a documentary, “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt.” There is also free HIV testing.

Genevieve Labe, 30, committee chair of the AIDS Memorial Quilt Committee, said she brought the quilt to Bloomington for the students. She said the quilt is significant to people’s own health, as well as in its history and political relevance in the '80s and today.

“There are a lot of things that students are not aware of, still, when it comes to politics, the history of this country, the history of politics in this country,” Labe said. “It's also about providing them an opportunity to not just learn about the AIDS Quilt but learn about their HIV status for free.”

Senior Ashley Mason, a volunteer at the event, read names in half-hour shifts for two and a half hours.

“I feel like every time I read a name I think about what their story was and what they were like,” Mason said.

Labe said the blocks on display were selected because they have some connection to Bloomington. She also selected blocks including celebrities like Freddy Mercury from Queen, famous artist Keith Haring and American choreographer Alvin Ailey.

One block has a particularly close connection to IU.

Jeff Morgan, who graduated from IU in 1981, died in 1993 as a result of HIV/AIDS. He was 34.

Morgan was a finance major and was heavily involved with the IU Student Foundation’s Steering Committee. He was also a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon.

Several of Morgan’s family members and friends were at Tuesday’s viewing. None of them had seen the quilt since it was on display in Washington, D.C., in 1998.

Morgan’s block was made up of eight different panels.

The bottom-right panel, created by his sister, Debbie Lewis, had a few symbols to describe Morgan. One was a large sun with the words “you are our sunshine,” written under it. Another was of a golden heart to symbolize Morgan’s “heart of gold.” 

In the top-right corner of the panel is a small Christmas tree to commemorate his love of Christmas.

Brian “Bubba” Smith, 58, was a close friend of Morgan’s in college. Smith said Morgan had a big personality.

“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” Smith said. “He was a loyal friend.”

After graduating from IU, Morgan moved to Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, before eventually moving to Los Angeles. By that point, Morgan’s health was starting to deteriorate.

Peggy Smith, 58, wife of Brian Smith and a friend of Morgan’s, said Morgan retained his spirit even in poor health.

“He still had a sense of humor, even when he couldn’t walk,” Peggy Smith said.

Lewis, 63, said when Morgan died in 1993, her father was devastated.

“I don’t think my dad smiled once after my brother died,” Lewis said.

Lewis began to tear up as she spoke about what seeing the quilt meant to her.

“It’s my way of being close to my brother,” Lewis said.

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