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Remembrance and Awareness: Service and quilt display commemorate World AIDS Day

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Through Wednesday, colorful quilts decorated with hearts, rainbows and faces will be displayed at the Rome-Floyd County Library in honor of World AIDS Day.

The intricate designs of the quilts represent much more than the eyes can see. The quilt panels were created in honor of loved ones whom have lost their battle with AIDS. They’re displayed in remembrance and as a form of healing. They continue to spread awareness of a terrible disease.

For the past 10 years, various panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt have been displayed in Rome in the days just before and after World AIDS Day, Dec. 1. The panels on display at the library are draped over the library’s lobby and can be found lining the spiral staircase. These handmade panels have been strategically placed with hopes of library guests pausing to recognize the deep significance each holds.

“We hope to reinforce the severe impact and to bring awareness, it’s not over, HIV/AIDS needs to be talked about” said Frank Tant, office manager at Rome’s AIDS Resource Council.

In the mid 1980s, Cleve Jones, a gay rights activist put together the first panel for the AIDS Memorial Quilt. There was significant public response. People from across the world began sending their own panels commemorating their loved ones who have died of AIDS. There were then added to the quilt.

The quilt was first publicly displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in October of 1987 and at the time it featured more than 1,920 panels. This led to a national tour for the quilt, raising nearly $500,000 for AIDS awareness and service organizations. At the end of the tour, the quilt featured more than 6,000 panels.

In addition to the quilt display to commemorate World AIDS Day, the AIDS Resource Council held its annual service on Dec. 1 in the chapel of Garden Lakes Baptist Church.

The service included a keynote speaker, Jimmy Gentry, pastor of Garden Lakes Baptist Church and a candle light ceremony.

Tant, who himself was diagnosed with HIV in the late 1980s, said this year’s service theme is “Speak Out,” focusing on the often forgotten yet deadly disease.

With Georgia ranked as the fifth state for new AIDS cases, Tant said he hopes to educate locals and bring additional awareness to the issue.

“People aren’t dying every day like they were,” he said. “However this doesn’t mean [AIDS] is gone. When I tested positive in 1988 there was only one available medication. Now there are over 30 medications accessible with fewer side effects.”

Tant emphasized that the ARC’s mission is to educate the community about HIV/AIDS, provide free testing, and serve those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

The quilt display is free and open to the public.

The AIDS Resource Council is located at 260 N. 5th Ave. They offer free, confidential HIV testing. Office hours are Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1-5 p.m. The phone number is 706-290-9098.