Eighteen years ago, the world was robbed of one of its’ most high-profile advocates of AIDS awareness: Ryan White.
In honor of 2008 World AIDS Day, his mother, Jeanne White-Ginder, will be the keynote speaker at an event in Dallas on Friday, Dec. 5 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel.
Ryan’s story begins in December 1984, when the 13-year-old and his mother learned he had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. Ryan, a hemophiliac, was given six months to live by doctors. But the boy was optimistic and just wanted to live as normal a life as he could.
His mother wanted to grant Ryan’s wish. But it wasn’t easy. People in Ryan’s hometown refused to allow him to go to school there out of fear of what was then still a mysterious disease.
Jeanne and Ryan sought help from the court system in a case that garnered international attention.
Ryan became an international celebrity, putting a face on HIV/AIDS. He appeared on countless magazine covers and television shows, and a movie, "The Ryan White Story," was made about his life.
He also became friends with many celebrities, including Elton John and Michael Jackson.
Jeanne and Ryan won their court case and the school was forced to allow Ryan to return. But the townspeople reacted with violence and after someone shot a gun through a window in their home, the Whites moved to Cicero, Ind., where Ryan was welcomed.
In Indiana, Ryan flourished. He went to high school, got a driver’s license and worked to build awareness of HIV/AIDS until, 5 1/2 years after being diagnosed, Ryan died on April 8, 1990, with his mother and Elton John by his side.
After his death, Jeanne received more than 60,000 letters of support and condolences from the public. On the advice of talk show host Phil Donohue, she hired an assistant and started responding to those letters. She also began crusading as an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and education.
She was able to get a book published that Ryan had written for children and create a foundation bearing his name, and she lobbied for federal legislation designating money for AIDS research.
In 1990, Congress enacted the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, or the CARE Act, which funds education, research and emergency medical care.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, funding for the Ryan White CARE Act was $2.1 billion for each of the last three years. More than 500,000 people are assisted through the program each year.
World AIDS Day was established by the World Health Organization in 1988. The day gives individuals and organizations the opportunity to raise and build awareness to the global epidemic.
According to the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, since being identified in 1981, HIV/AIDS has caused the death of approximately 25 million people worldwide.
Raeline Nobles, executive director of Dallas’ AIDS Arms Inc., said, "Today, there are more than 24,000 people living with HIV and AIDS in the North Texas area and more than 1,500 new cases added this year."
"The North Texas HIV Service Providers Council is very proud to have Ms. Ginder speak at our World AIDS Day event this year," Nobles said.
"As the field shifts in response to dramatic funding cuts in social support services, it is a time of great change and even greater anxiety among AIDS service organizations about what these cuts mean to the epidemic’s future.
"Having Ms. White-Ginder speak to us with her historical perspective and voice of advocacy will be very enlightening for everyone."
In addition to White-Ginder, the event will feature the National Memorial AIDS Quilt, an Information Faire and an awards presentation.
‘One Candle Finds The Way’
What: North Texas HIV Service Providers Council’s World AIDS Day 2008
When: 10 a.m to 4 p.m.. Friday, Dec. 5
Where: Hilton Anatole Hotel, S. Stemmons Freeway at Market Center, Trinity II Ballroom
Tickets: Information Faire and AIDS quilt display are free and open to the public. Luncheon is $30 per person in advance or $40 at the door. Tables are $300. RSVP no later than Dec. 1 to Alisha Fowler at 214-521-5191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 28, 2008.