By ANNA HALL The Brunswick News | Posted: Friday, October 23, 2015 12:00 am
The impact AIDS and HIV have in Coastal Georgia, the state and throughout nation is readily available to those who want to know.
In 2012, the Coastal Health District, which includes Glynn County, saw one of the state’s highest levels of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases.
The figures, the latest available, show up to 679 individuals were found with the condition.
Glynn County was reported by the CDC as being home to more HIV/AIDS residents than any other county in the state. There are 159 counties in Georgia.
In addition, Georgia is one of the top five states in the nation to report cases of residents diagnosed with HIV, with 3,020 cases reported in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest data.
Justin Bell is one of those numbers. Several years ago, Bell was diagnosed as HIV positive, but nearly as hard as learning of his diagnosis was handling the stigma of having the disease.
On mobile? View video of the quilt on display
“There is an idea that AIDS and HIV only happens to certain people, and it’s just not true,” Bell said. “I want to foster a conversation, to open a dialogue, about AIDS and HIV. Through that conversation, we can hopefully get more people tested for the disease and help more people be proactive.”
To jump start that conversation, Bell and his fellow advocates have set up shop temporarily in Brunswick to display the nationally recognized AIDS Memorial Quilt on the campus of the College of Coastal Georgia. Portions of the quilt have been displayed in various locations throughout the country since 1987 through the NAMES Project Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve and care for the honored quilt. The mission of the foundation, aside from tending to the quilt, is to assist local communities in participating in rotating displays of the memorial to foster healing, raise awareness and inspire action in the war against AIDS and HIV.
A joint collaboration between members of PFLAG, College of Coastal Georgia, Coastal Health District, Southeast Georgia Health System, Sea Island, Hospice of Golden Isles and a slate of community partners and sponsors came together to sponsor the eight sections of the internationally celebrated AIDS Memorial Quilt.
As a representative and spokesman for the Northeast Florida chapter of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, Bell is spreading his message in the Golden Isles.
The quilt will be on display today through 4 p.m.
It is the third time in recent years that a panel from the 54-ton, handmade tapestry has stood on the college’s Brunswick campus. Eight blocks of the large, original quilt are on display on the college campus, playing as a memorial to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have lost the struggle with AIDS.
“This quilt in its entirety is the largest art project in the world,” Bell said. “It has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. But more than being an impressive memorial, it is an opportunity to open conversations, to talk about this epidemic that still lives on in our communities.”
Bell began such a conversation Thursday with psychology students at the college, encouraging them to examine the art exhibit and, ultimately, become more aware of the illness. During his Thursday visit to the college’s Brunswick campus, Bell asked as many students as possible to get an offered HIV test that was available free. More students than expected took Bell up on the offer.
“We had more than double the amount of students take our free tests than last year,” Bell said. “We had so many students sign up for the test that we actually ran out of tests. That’s not a terrible problem to have, I’d say. This exhibit and its attendance so far is more than I could hope for. It’s been absolutely successful.”
A closing celebration for the quilt, complete with an official folding ceremony, will be held at 3 p.m. today at the college. The exhibition will then be taken down and closed by 4 p.m.
For additional information about the quilt, visit aidsquilt.org.