AIDS Project Rhode Island commemorating 35 years of service

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In 2020, AIDS Project Rhode Island (APRI),  the longest operating HIV/AIDS service program in the state, commemorates 35 years of service. In honor of this landmark anniversary, APRI is kicking off a yearlong series of events, beginning with a gala cocktail party Thursday, February 20, 2020, at the Ballroom at the Providence G. This event will feature speaker HIV activist and educator Bruce Richman, a Rhode Island native who is the founding executive director of the Prevention Access Campaign and who launched the lauded Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) campaign that fights HIV stigma around the world. Tickets are available at www.aidsprojectri.org/celebrate.  

AIDS Project Rhode Island formally incorporated in 1985, during the early days of the epidemic. At that time, an HIV or AIDS diagnosis was regarded by many as a death sentence, and the diseases devastated several communities—especially of gay and bisexual men and people of color. Since cases of AIDS were first reported in 1981, more than 32 million people have died from HIV-related complications around the world.

In “Rhode Island Project/AIDS: The Birth of a Community Organization,” written by David A. Eligator at Brown University in 1987, Eligator noted the genesis of the organization from a potluck dinner for a group of local gay men: “Using the people in the potluck dinner group and others in the gay community … Bill [Pellicio, a local mental healthcare provider] and John [an HIV-positive friend of Bill’s] organized a grassroots meeting to establish a committee on AIDS in Rhode Island. It was set for May 31, 1985. This meeting was to become the first meeting of Rhode Island Project/AIDS. There were 28 people at the meeting.” The Project, as it was known then, incorporated soon after and launched three seminal programs for the community living with and impacted by HIV/AIDS: a hotline, a speaker’s bureau, and a buddy program. The Project would eventually change its name to AIDS Project Rhode Island. In 2008, APRI merged with Family Service of Rhode Island.

In honor of its 35th anniversary, APRI will host a variety of fundraising and community events throughout the year, including the annual AIDS Run/Walk for Life on June 6 in Roger Williams Park in Providence, a special screening of the seminal documentary “Paris Is Burning” at the Columbus Theatre in Providence on Sept. 18, and a World AIDS Day event on December 1.  In addition to Bruce Richman, the gala cocktail party on Feb. 20 will feature community award presentations, a silent auction, and appearances by a number of individuals who were closely involved in the launch of the Project back in 1985.

“The history of HIV and AIDS is one that is sad in many ways because of the generations of people we have lost, but it is also a remarkable lesson in advocacy, activism, care, and compassion,” current APRI Director Mikel Wadewitz says in a press release. “We have made huge strides in the fight against HIV in these last 35 years and we can dramatically reduce the number of HIV-related deaths thanks to these advances. Now we need to make sure that we continue that momentum, connect people to the care they need, and end the persistent stigma against HIV with messages like U=U. We know we can end the epidemic. We’re still here so we can make sure that happens.”

For more info, visit www.aidsprojectri.org