Complete silence filled the halls of Tacony Library with the exception of a single voice, reading out loud name after name after name.
“Ralph Sprugel. Tom Best. Eddie Long,” read out Troy Everwine, finishing the list of names that had taken over 15 minutes to read.
“This is a very small sampling,” he said.
Everwine, of the Southeast Northeast Philadelphia Arts Collective, and others had read out the names of individuals who had died from AIDS to memorialize them. Spectators listened while standing between and behind large quilt displays reaching as tall as the library’s bookshelves.
The quilts on display were a part of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, one of the largest pieces of community art in the world that was created to memorialize people who died from the disease. It was on display at the library the night of Dec. 6, allowing neighbors to see the artwork and messages up close.
“Bye boo,” reads a quilt memorializing Phillip Brown III, whose face is decorated with balloons and stars. Across from him is a full-page letter intricately transcribed to stitch work in which someone wishes goodbye to their lover, David.
On the quilt for someone remembered as ‘Mr. Ken’ Szczypien, Kermit the Frog offers some final words.
“I am green and I’ll do fine,” it reads. “It’s beautiful, and I think it’s what I want to be.”
The quilt is a project of the NAMES Project Foundation, based in Atlanta. It’s a 54-ton tapestry that memorializes more than 96,000 individuals. The project began in San Francisco back in 1987. People submit 3-by-6-foot panels to commemorate the life of a loved one.
From the ‘80s to 2004, there were 529,113 AIDS-related deaths in the country, according to amfAR.org
It’s an ongoing project, with quilts still being made today — according to HIV.gov, 39,782 people were diagnosed with HIV in the U.S. in 2016.
“We haven’t reached a cure, but we have reached a way to extend life and give people a healthy life,” Everwine said.
Robb Reichard, the executive director of the AIDS Fund, said he had planned something to talk about at the event, but after hearing Everwine read Eddie Long’s name at the end of the list, he changed his mind to tell a story.
“Eddie Long was a friend of mine, 44 years old,” he said. “Eddie was the life of the party.”
On a Tuesday night in November 2012, Long posted on Facebook that he was having a bad case of diarrhea. It was his last Facebook post. When his coworkers noticed he didn’t show up to work the next day, they contacted the police, who broke down the door and found Long dead in his bed.
Reichard said he had many conversations with Long about being tested, and that Long got tested frequently.
“Today we have treatments so that people could live long and healthy lives. Eddie never had that opportunity,” Reichard said.
Reichard said Long died five months after the FDA approved PrEP pills, which can be taken daily to reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex.
“We have the ability to help people live a long and healthy life with HIV, but they have to have the medicine, and they have to have the basic needs that too many people with HIV don’t have,” he said.
This is the second year in a row SENE brought some of the quilts to the library. Everwine said helping bring the project to Tacony is an emotional process.
“Each of those names is a lifetime,” Everwine said. “Many of those names are people who were so filled with talent and promise, and were in the prime of their lives. For some it was as quick as they thought they got the flu, and they were gone.”
The event was made possible with donations and/or services provided by the Tacony CDC, Mural Arts Philadelphia, HK99 Realty, the Tacony Civic Association, the Wissinoming Civic Association, the Holmesburg Civic Association and CDC, the Philadelphia Chinese United Association, state Rep. Mike Driscoll and Councilman Bobby Henon. ••