IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) — From dusk until dawn, volunteers read the names of AIDS victims aloud on the University of Iowa campus.
Saturday marks the 30th year of World AIDS Day and all of this week the organization IC RED has held its Red Week to spread awareness.
On Friday, the organization held its “Reading of Names” which began at sunrise and ended at sundown.
For five minutes at a time, volunteers stepped up to a podium and microphone to read aloud countless names. The names of people they have never met.
“I feel very honored to be able to say their names and let their names be heard again,” Elizabeth Riordan said.
Each name was someone who died from AIDS. For Riordan, this was her third year participating. Riordan said she has friends that are HIV positive.
The list of names spanned 100,000 people but there aren’t enough minutes of daylight to get through them all. By sundown, organizers expect around 20,000 names would have been read.
IC RED said by saying each name aloud it makes them more than a statistic.
“When you put a name to it, it makes it more real for people and you realize this was someone’s friend, mother, father,” IC RED member Maegan Tyrrell said.
Tyrrell said it’s also an opportunity to reduce the stigma around HIV/AIDS and to encourage people to talk about it.
For Riordan, it is an emotional moment. her voice starts to crack and her eyes swelled as she read from a long list of people only represented by their first names.
“It was pages and pages of just one name. Which just makes it just more real in a sense I guess because you know people with those names. You know your Tim. You know your Jack,” she said.
While many of the names are from the AIDS epidemic of the 80’s, Riordan said it’s still important to pay attention.
“The AIDS epidemic is something we should have paid more attention to and this is us paying attention to them now,” she said. “Had we been paying attention to it much earlier, we wouldn’t be reading so many names.”
In 2016, Iowa had a record high of new HIV diagnoses. The Iowa Department of Public Health said it believes that was because more people were getting tested than ever.
As of the start of the year, public health said more than 2,700 Iowans live with HIV but they believe that number is higher due to people living with the disease without ever being diagnosed.
This is the first year IC RED has a student organization on the University of Iowa campus. Outside of Red Week, the organization will work to promote HIV/AIDS awareness year-round.