During the 1980s, Ryan White was the poster child for HIV awareness and research. He was an inspirational figure for people with AIDS who were fighting for recognition and acceptance. At the age of 13, Ryan, a hemophiliac, was diagnosed with AIDS from a blood transfusion. His doctors gave him 6 months to live. But, surprising everyone, Ryan began to feel better, and 6 months later, instead of lying on his death bed, he wanted to return to school. And that struggle–trying to return to school over the fear-based objections of school administrators and other parents–thrust him into the national spotlight. Ryan’s fight to go to school helped bring the AIDS/HIV issue into the public consciousness and raised awareness, leading AIDS/HIV research forward. Ryan did eventually return to school (albeit in a different school district) but succumbed to the disease in 1990, just a month before he was to graduate from high school. Shortly after his death, Congress passed the Ryan White Care Act, funding a program to help people with AIDS (and their families) get the care they need.
More details of Ryan’s inspirational story and his lasting legacy can be found here.
I am discussing Ryan White because I was recently honored to be able to play a small part in the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Ryan’s admittance to Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Indiana. Unlike Ryan’s middle school, where many objections were raised to Ryan’s attendance, Hamilton Heights took the effort to educate its school community about AIDS/HIV and was welcoming to Ryan.
The current art teacher at Hamilton Heights High School, Erin Goodman, reached out to me and asked if I could design a collaborative portrait of Ryan that her art students could work on and present during the school’s “Remembering Ryan White” commemoration ceremony on August 31st of this year (2017). I was happy (and humbled) to oblige!
Erin shared with me this description of how her project went:
I first contacted you on July 27th about designing this collaborative piece for the Remembering Ryan White convocation at my new school on August 31st. I was so thrilled when you said “yes”!
I had the poster printed in color on cardstock. We began painting your collaborative poster on August 21st. about 20 students came to the art room during their lunch for 8 school days in a row. Others painted during homeroom, which takes places during the first 30 minutes of each school day. Students worked on this project entirely outside of class, with the exception of a few who had time to spare after working on their class project. The kids were so enthusiastic about and proud to participate in this project. They worked very hard to paint as neatly as they possibly could. They often gave each other advice for making the paint look smooth and edges look neat. We ordered a custom frame for the painting when we realized that it was turning out so beautifully. The frame arrived on Tuesday, August 29th and students put the completed mural and frame together in one day, on Wednesday, August 30th.
The convocation was somewhat formal and students and staff were asked to wear red, the AIDS awareness color. There were several honored speakers including Tony Cook [principal during the time Ryan was there], Jerome Adams [Indiana State Health Commissioner] and John Nichols [state’s HIV Prevention Director]. Thank you so much making this project possible!
Erin also was kind enough to share a lot of pictures of the art process and the student participants–from the supplies,
to the planning,
to the execution,
and the assembly,
to the end result,
and finally, the ceremony.
I couldn’t be more thrilled and touched at how everything turned out.
What a great outcome and memorable experience for all involved (including me)–one of teamwork, dedication, and passion for commemorating such a brave and determined soul, Ryan White.
I am so honored to have been a part of this!
P.S. This week, Mrs. Goodman shared on Instagram that the collaborative poster of Ryan was given to Ryan’s mom. Please pass the tissues!
2019: The legacy of Ryan white is still going. This year (2019), students are making 1,000 paper cranes as part of another student collaborative project. You can see Mrs. Goodman’s Instagram post about it HERE.