This week I began writing in my notebook along with my students. Today's writing prompt/spark/idea was
"Begin with this: I remember..."
I remember Ryan White, a boy who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion that he needed because of a blood disease called hemophilia. At the time, 1984, little was known about this new disease. Ryan was one of the first children to have been diagnosed with AIDS, and the country was scared.
Ryan became "famous" due to his fight to return to school. The school district, after succumbing to pressure from students, teachers, and parents, banned Ryan from attending school. The White family filed a suit, but the court said they first had to go through the proper procedures. The Department of Education allowed him to return; however, on his first day back, many of the kids did not attend in protest. It got very ugly from there.
I was in college during the hearings, and I wrote about this for one of my papers. I attended a few days of the hearing with a roommate, who was from the community where Ryan lived. Her father was a school board member for the district who initiated the ban.
My paper was about whether Ryan had a right to go to school or if the school district had a right to protect the other students. This was a scary time as little was known about the spread of the disease, and the public was not well-educated, which caused the fear to get out of control. I am embarrassed to admit I wrote that I did not know what I would do if Ryan was in my classroom. I was in my early 20's, young, ignorant, and naive, but my fear was real.
As we sit in our homes today, fighting the spread of a virus we know little about, I remember Ryan White. April 8th marks the 30th anniversary of his death. I remember that day. It was a beautiful, sunny Palm Sunday, and I was driving back to Decatur, Illinois where I lived at the time. The announcement came across the radio while I was on a country road, surrounded by barren fields. At that moment, I remember mourning for a boy back in Indiana, a boy I did not know.
More information on the Ryan White HIV?AIDS Program
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