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FIU receives $100,000 grant to commemorate Miami's HIV/AIDS history
Project co-leads (from left): filmmaker Dudley Alexis, historians Dan Royles and Julio Capó

FIU receives $100,000 grant to commemorate Miami's HIV/AIDS history

April 8, 2024 at 2:52pm

The Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit public art and history studio, has awarded a grant to the Department of History at FIU’s Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs to raise the visibility of Miami’s HIV/AIDS history by activating and organizing community-engaged planning for a series of local AIDS memorials.

FIU’s efforts are led by Julio Capó, project lead and associate professor of history, and Dan Royles, associate professor of history. Artist and filmmaker Dudley Alexis is also leading this project.

Members of the community will have the opportunity to contribute to this commemorative work by sharing their own stories through oral histories and participating in events to which they can bring materials that help piece together the history of HIV/AIDS in Miami. The launch event for the project is on Wednesday, April 10, 2024, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, 3251 S. Miami Ave., Miami, FL 33129. The event is free and open to the public. Those who attend can meet Capó, Royles and Alexis, share their stories and hear from others and watch dance performances.

Other locations associated with the project include South Beach and sites of significance to the Haitian community, particularly in Little Haiti and North Miami. In addition to working with several community partners, the team will use social media to engage a broad audience.

By the early 1980s, grassroots fundraisers provided money to groups that arose to fight the epidemic and became critical to research and treatment of the disease. The Vizcaya estate hosted the White Party, for example, a landmark fundraiser for Miami’s HIV/AIDS health service network.

“As grassroots groups became institutionalized, federal and corporate money began to fund the fight against the disease as new medications extended the lives of people with HIV, and subsequently the disease fell off the list of public concerns,” Royles said. Miami’s Little Haiti and North Miami neighborhoods are both social and cultural epicenters of the city’s Haitian diaspora. Due in part to the stigma attached to Haitians in the early AIDS crisis, the disease remains a source of shame in Miami’s Haitian community.” 

Interested students will receive hands-on training as interns and assist with the commemorative work and outreach throughout the project. With support from FIU Special Collections & University Archives, oral histories and materials will be digitized and made publicly available.

The results of the first stage of the project will be publicly shared through community information sessions and digital initiatives. The project will allow the community to support people who have been affected by the disease and will preserve and recognize their memories.

By gathering community input and feedback, the aim is to create memorials that represent the ways that Miami’s diverse communities have been impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, including the ways that people in those communities organized and cared for one another in the face of the disease.

“In many ways, this community-based work is an extension of the work we do in the Department of History’s public history program, where we train our students to think about the power and practice of memory, commemoration and how we know what we know about the past,” Capó said. “This all aligns so well with FIU’s role as Miami’s public university.”

The project is being conducted in collaboration with several community partners, including the Stonewall National Museum, Archives, and Library (SNMAL), World AIDS Museum and Educational Center (WAM), and Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center.