(Crystal A. Proxmire, 12/04/2011)
When his partner, Kris Heck, passed away in 2001, Rick Henning of Warren got comfort from making a panel for the AIDS Memorial Quilt in the young man’s name. Heck was only 37 years old when disease took his life.
“His smile is what was infectious,” Henning said as he remembered. “He was so happy and energetic. We’d get up every day and work out, and it didn’t affect him much until the end. The last two months when the HIV turned into AIDS he couldn’t do all that. We were both at the hospital 24/7…. In the end he said that he was ready. He said ‘I didn’t have any regrets except I didn’t have more time with you.’”
Henning crafted a simple panel of dark blue fabric and a large red velvet rose with a gift tag on it reading “Whatever tomorrow brings I’ll be there, with open arms and open eyes, Love, Rick 11/26/01.”
The 3 x 6 panel is part of the NAMES Project which has collected over 45,520 such panels containing over 83,000 names for the largest collective art project in the world to memorialize victims of AIDS. Since 1987 the project has been shown in pieces throughout the world, including covering Washington Mall back in 1996. Heck’s red rose was back in the Detroit area on Friday, Dec. 2, 2011 as part of Affirmations AIDS Memorial. Four 12 x 12 sections were on display in the community center in Downtown Ferndale, containing panels that originated in the Metro Detroit Area.
As members of the community gathered to view the quilt’s panels, they also screened a film called “untitled,” which was created as part of a Day With(out) Art. Visual AIDS launched Day With(out) Art as a World AIDS Day initiative in 1989 as the national day of action and mourning in response to the AIDS crisis. The film, created by Jim Hodges, Encke King, and Carlos Marques da Cruz, was shown at over 55 museums, community centers and other venues nationwide. It was essentially an eclectic collection of footage documenting human rights atrocities around the world, including the early hatred and ignorance surrounding the AIDS Epidemic.
When the film was over, attendees gathered at the front of the center to partake in a minute of silence while holding candles in memory of those who have passed away. They then shared stories. Johnny Jenkins, Director of Programming, led the vigil. “I came out at a time when all this with AIDS was out there. I had no idea what I was getting into. But I faced it and I came out anyway,” he said.
Rachel Crandal, who works at the Affirmations on the Helpline and is also the founder of Transgender Michigan, lost a mentor in the early 90s from the Lansing area. “His name was Don, I don’t want to give his last name, but he was really inspirational,” she said. “He came out long before I came out. He was so flamboyant and I was so shy. But when he left I think he left a piece of himself here with me. I think of him when I need to be more flamboyant or bold.”
Others spoke of relatives and friends, including those who are alive, but infected, and hoping for a cure. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 40,000 people contract HIV each year in the United States.
Henning, who is also the CEO of Higher Ground, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with HIV and AIDS, did not attend the public viewing of the quilt, saying he preferred to go alone the following day to see Heck’s red-rosed panel again in private.