National AIDS Memorial Quilt returns to San Francisco for good

This week 35 years ago, Mike Smith and his friends, Cleve Jones and Gert McMullin, grew tired of reading headlines about other friends who were dying of AIDS in San Francisco's Castro District. 

Their fueled anger and fear sparked a move to write the names of their fallen friends down, mark their stories and post it to the federal building in San Francisco. The squares resembled a quilt and, thus, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was born.

Part of the National AIDS Memorial Quilt is laid out in Golden Gate Park, within the Robin Williams Meadow. Showing 3,000 panels, it's the largest display in San Francisco. 

"Remember the names, remember the lives," said Kevin Herglotz, chief operating officer of the National AIDS Memorial. "Remember what this pandemic was about. We never want to forget the over 700,000 lost in the US to AIDS."

"It forced a lot of us into action," said Smith. "Fearing we were being forgotten by our government and being left to die."

After a 20-year stint in Atlanta, the quilt now lives back in the Bay Area.

"The epidemic has moved less into the gay community and more out into the African American community and in the South," said Smith. "We wanted the quilt continue to be relevant."

Plans for the homecoming were originally scheduled for early 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic forced delays. San Francisco leaders say they're excited to finally bring it back home.

"I'm really proud that we're going to continue to do it and to fight where we do get to that point where not one more, not one more life is lost to HIV-AIDS," said San Francisco mayor London Breed."

The panels will remain in Golden Gate Park until Sunday afternoon; organizers will start closing ceremonies around 4 p.m. 

Organizers say in 35 years, they've raised awareness but until there is a cure and a vaccine, the job is far from over.

"Our work of promoting awareness about AIDS will continue," said Brown. "It has to continue."