Brooklyn High School Hosts AIDS Quilt

Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, New York, is hosting a display of AIDS Memorial Quilt panels in one of its gyms. Located on the first floor of the large public school, there are a dozen segments from the acclaimed AIDS Quilt hanging on the walls. The artwork, which commemorates the lives of people who have died of AIDS and complications, will be exhibited for a week as part of World AIDS Day.

Murrow HS is the only Brooklyn high school currently involved in this endeavor and according to teacher Lisa Willner, who teaches English classes and is an alumna of the school, Murrow has hosted parts of the Quilt for 21 years. I was particularly interested in visiting this exhibition because I am an alumna myself (Class of 1982) and one of my teachers at Murrow died as a result of contracting AIDS. William Wilson, along with another teacher (Peter Ferraro) and alumnus Adam Balzano, Class of 1981, are memorialized in a special quilt. Their names are rendered on a white background with green trim (the school’s colors) along with a few decorations (a red ribbon, a drama mask, a director’s clapboard).

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I also remember Adam Balzano, who was a student while I attended. He was involved in school theatrical productions and we had at least one class together. Seeing his name up there, as well as those of the teachers, was a somber and moving experience for me.

Students come to see the Quilt during one of their phys ed or health class sections. When I visited there were three classes, thus about 100 teens and their teachers. In addition there were a few students from the school’s H.E.A.R.T. Club, volunteering their time by working a table with memorial candles and literature (as well as making sure no kids brought in food or drinks). The students walked around, looking at the panels and discussing them amongst themselves. A few students pointed out a panel of four quilts with Spanish words. Others made comments about the designs and things attached to them (a few kids were discussing a panel that had a stuffed animal sewn to it).

Ms. Willner encouraged students to “Walk around and look at the quilts. They represent lives.” She also reminded them to “Walk quietly, thank you.” Kids asked her questions about the Quilt and about individual panels. She also pointed out to me a pretty quilt for Iris DeLaCruz, a woman who passed away due to AIDS complications. Her mother had worked at Caravelle, a beloved restaurant that used to be located two blocks away from the school. The quilt featured poignant quotes. “I request this panel each year. Her mother is coming by today to see this,” Ms. Willner told me.
Last year a larger portion of the AIDS Quilt was on display at CCNY, the City College of New York, and I visited it then as well.

It is my fervent hope that this AIDS Memorial Quilt makes an impression on these teenagers, as they walk around with their peers. And I caught sight of my own daughter, a ninth-grader, who was walking into the gym with her classmates as I was leaving. I hope that none of her classmates will succumb to this horrible disease.

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Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.