Hundreds gathered in Greenwich Village on Thursday to dedicate the NYC AIDS Memorial, erected in the shadow of what was once St. Vincent’s Hospital.
The memorial, a white canopy towering about 18 feet high over St. Vincent’s Triangle Park, cost about $6 million to construct, according to the memorial’s organizers.
Thursday was World AIDS Day.
“I was crying a minute ago,” said Bronx resident Awilda Colon, 55, whose older sister, Eulalia, passed away in 1993 at 33. “It’s a cause that’s dear to my heart.”
Colon said her sister was diagnosed in the 1980s, and she plans to visit the memorial every year for both the anniversary Eulalia’s her death and her birthday.
The memorial was placed near the shuttered St. Vincent’s Hospital, which closed in 2010, and hosted the city’s first and largest AIDS ward.
“This is important, for us to just support one another,” said Gerardo Marcano, 37, a Harlem resident who works as a health educator and performs HIV testing. “It’s still a problem and still an issue that’s affecting our community in New York.”
Bill de Blasio, speaking from the stage to those gathered, recognized the difficulties those dealing with the disease went through, but said the memorial itself symbolizes hope.
“This is one of those moments where you have to reflect, you have to feel emotionally the history that we’re here to commemorate,” he said. “And it is a history filled with pain, it’s a very personal pain.”
De Blasio said in 2015 the city had the lowest number of HIV infections in 30 years.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set a goal of zero AIDS mortalities and zero HIV transmissions through injection drug use by the end of 2020. And this week, Cuomo said in a statement he signed legislation that will help increase access to HIV testing and expanding research capabilities.
In June 2014, Cuomo announced a goal to reduce the total number of HIV infections in the state to just over 750 by 2020, from the estimated 3,000 at the time.
Council Member Corey Johnson, whose district includes Greenwich Village where the memorial was placed, said the day was especially poignant for him. In 2004, Johnson discovered he was HIV-positive at 22 years old.
“Today is the culmination of years of incredible advocacy and planning,” said Johnson. “I, and other activists of my generation, often point out — rightly so — that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants.
“The beauty and the courage of those who passed away live on through those who loved them, and many of you are here today,” he added to the crowd. “One day in the near future we will live in a world without HIV and AIDS. So for those of us here today, and for the generations to come, let this memorial remind us that every man, woman, and child that was lost to the AIDS crisis had a life that was valuable and meaningful and beautiful and they will never be forgotten.”