“Remembering, Commemorating, Memorializing,” an interfaith prayer breakfast honoring caregivers and those impacted by HIV/AIDS, will be hosted by The Griot Museum of Black History, Empower Missouri and the Missouri Foundation for Health, on Saturday, May 11 at 9 a.m. at The Griot, 2505 St. Louis Ave., 63106. The breakfast is part of The Griot’s “Impact HIV/AIDS Initiative,” The Griot’s campaign to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS on St. Louis’ African-American community.


The event will focus on the enduring legacy and little-known life and death of a 16-year-old African-American teenager in St. Louis, Robert Rayford. Rayford died in May 1969 of complications from what was then a mysterious illness, but which we now know as HIV/AIDS. In the mid-1980s, a group of experts, some of whom had met Rayford, tested saved tissues and concluded that he had lived with HIV/AIDS. The findings, published in a 1988 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, makes Rayford the earliest documented person in North America impacted by HIV/AIDS. May 2019 marks 50 years since Rayford’s death.


“It is past time for people in the city to know that Robert Rayford lived among us. Others like him are living among us today. The least we can do is honor Roberts’ life and think about how HIV/AIDS impacted him then and raise awareness about how it affects us all now,” said Lois Conley, Founder and Executive Director of The Griot.


So far, organizers been unable to locate any relatives of Robert Rayford, but are hopeful that publicity and coverage of the event will provide an opportunity to make these connections. While Rayford’s mother Constance passed away in 2011 and his older brother, George, in 2007, other relatives and friends may still be alive.


The event will include a buffet breakfast and prayers from spiritual leaders, including the Rev. Karen Anderson, the Rev. Frances Cleveland, and Bro. Abdul Hakim. Noted HIV/AIDS scholar Theodore “ted” Kerr will share from his work about Rayford, which has been featured in international academic journals and art publications. For Kerr, there is an importance in telling Rayford’s story now.


“Rayford lived on Delmar in the 1960s. That means there are still people around who knew him and his family. I am excited about what we can learn by coming together, and how we can reduce HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination by talking about our own history and present day experiences with the virus,” Kerr noted.


The Griot Impact AIDS/HIV Breakfast


The breakfast will also recognize community leaders and service providers whose vital contributions, especially in the early years of the epidemic, made a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of Black communities in the St. Louis area. Special honorees include Erise Williams Jr. of Blacks Assisting Blacks Against AIDS and Williams & Associates; Deborah Patterson, former CEO of the Red Cross of Eastern Missouri; and Rudy Nickens, former co-owner of the Sunshine Inn.


All proceeds from the breakfast will support The Griot’s Impact HIV/AIDS, an on-going campaign. An exhibition on the subject is planned for the summer of 2019.


Admission is $30 for adults and $15 for youth 12 and under. Table sponsorships with seating for 8 are $240. Program sponsorships are also available. Tickets may be purchased online at thegriotmuseum.com or by phone at 314-241-7057.


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