July 21, 2012 at 3:03 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Annie Lennox, UNAIDS head speak at AIDS Memorial Quilt opening ceremony

Annie Lennox and Michel Sidibé of UNAIDS on the National Mall (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Singer Annie Lennox and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé were among those who attended the AIDS Memorial Quilt’s opening ceremony on the National Mall earlier on Saturday.

“The path to the last one begins with action and advocacy with research, access to care and a search for a cure,” said Lennox, referring to the “Last One” quilt panel that the NAMES Project received in 1988 with a handwritten message that expressed hope that the AIDS epidemic would someday end. “’The Last One’ begins with the last new infection, the last new AIDS case and the last AIDS death-the last child orphaned. ‘The Last One’ begins when hearts and minds are open, where stigmas ends and compassion begins. ‘The Last One’ began long before we arrived here this morning and today as we recommit to ‘The Last One’ with a promise to fight for the living, we honor the dead for they have made the ultimate sacrifice on the journey to the last one.”

Sidibé echoed her sentiments.

“I personally believe that we could start to imagine a day without HIV/AIDS,” he said. “I believe it is possible to imagine soon an AIDS-free generation where we will not have any baby born with HIV in this world.”

The NAMES Project, which maintains the quilt, is slated to unfold more than 35,000 panels on the Mall each day through July 25. Rain forced organizers to curtail Saturday’s opening ceremony, but D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is scheduled to speak at tomorrow’s event ahead of the start of the International AIDS Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Sections of the quilt remain on display at more than 50 locations throughout the metropolitan Washington area. These include George Washington and American Universities, the Human Rights Campaign and the Torpedo Factory Arts Center in Arlington. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) will also host a reception for the quilt at the Library of Congress on Monday.

“25 years ago a group of strangers gathered to remember the names and the lives of their loved ones they feared history would forget,” said NAMES Project President Julie Rhoad as she discussed the group of San Francisco HIV/AIDS activists who created the quilt in 1987. It has since grown to include 48,000 panels and 94,000 names of those who succumbed to the epidemic.

“They made it impossible for the world to dismiss or deny AIDS,” said Rhoad.

Volunteers from Advocates for Youth and Levi Strauss and Company were among those who helped showcase the panels that the NAMES Project displayed during the ceremony.

(Washington Blade photo gallery by Michael Key)

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Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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