After an incredible introduction by keynote speaker Dr. Kellie Carter-Jackson, Concord Academy students had the opportunity to attend different workshops commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.. Workshops offered ranged from jewelry making and dance to educational seminars such as AIDS: Love & Activism, led by faculty members Kem Morehead, Monica Ripley, and Chris Rowe, as well as Morehead’s wife, Kim Crawford-Harvie.
AIDS: Love & Activism was a two-part presentation about the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and its effect on the queer community in the US, particularly those belonging to marginalized racial groups. Ripley began the presentation and shared her personal experience of having a queer father who struggled to find information during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Crawford-Harvie, who once served as a preacher at a church in Provincetown, Massachusetts, continued by sharing her own story: In the 1980s, the community of Provincetown was marked by divisions and tensions between its prominent Catholic population and its queer members. Crawford-Harvie spoke about how people she had known for a long time, who had seemed healthy days before, started dying. The mystery sickness seemed to be solely affecting queer people, especially gay men. Crawford-Harvie spoke about how people seemed fearful that they, too, were going to die in the same way. In fact, the Catholic Church in Provincetown was so afraid of AIDS that it refused to allow those dying from the illness to attend their last service. Crawford-Harvie added that one of the two funeral homes in town would also not allow the deceased who died from AIDS to be serviced at their funeral home. Crawford-Harvie’s own groups stepped in to help while the mysterious disease raged on. Feeling it looming on the horizon, she had accepted death as inevitable, though at the time she knew not how it spread.
One statistic that stood out in particular was that, while AIDS affected every race and ethnicity, it was fatal in Black men 46 times more often than in white men. While the presentation did not address the reasons for this, it emphasized the correlation between race and the fatality rate of men who were HIV-positive.
Later in the presentation, Rowe taught attendees about the impact the epidemic had on the arts, particularly artists who sought to raise awareness for the AIDS epidemic. Attendees learned about iconic artists such as Keith Haring and Robert Maplethorppe, but also less well-known artists like Kia LaBeija, whose work involves her experiences as a woman living with HIV, and Félix González-Torres, whose candy installation “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in LA) dealt with the visceral weight loss that González-Torres’s partner, Ross Laycock, managed while living with the disease that ultimately took Laycock’s life. Attendees also learned about activists like Bayard Rustin, an out gay Black man and the logistics leader of the March on Washington, whose stories have often been sidelined in AIDS historiography.
AIDS: Love & Activism was an extraordinary presentation about a very important part of American history. The workshop shed light on the history of discrimination towards gay men and, in particular, Black gay men. In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism toward equality for all, this presentation was a reminder that while Americans as a whole have made much progress, we still have a long way to go, indeed.