The AIDS Memorial Project of NE Florida (AMP) is proud to announce the first of its ongoing projects to memorialize the almost 5,000 individuals lost to acquired immune deficiency syndrome in the last 35 years. Love Grove is a major tree-planting undertaking planned for Willowbranch Park. The project launches at noon on Thursday, Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. A dedication ceremony is planned as well as the planting of the first of what will eventually be 100 trees, representing just a sample of the Northeast Florida men and women who died from AIDS. Many of those early deaths were within blocks of the park, and most were within a few square miles. ZIP codes 32204 and 32205 initially represented some of the largest numbers of early cases of AIDS diagnosis.
AIDS memorials are found throughout the United States, from Key West to New York to San Francisco—and many cities in between. Beautiful, powerful and personal monuments are proudly displayed around the world. They share some common themes, primarily those of loss and the regrettably minimal national (and global) early response, which helped lead to this universal tragedy. The individuals whose names are displayed on these memorials had to endure horrible treatment. Vilification by the religious community was commonplace, along with homelessness, family rejection, loss of income, inadequate medical care and eventually a lonely death.
Willowbranch Park was selected because of its long historic significance to the LGBT community. Considered “hallowed ground,” it was here, 40 years ago, that Pride was first celebrated by 300 men and women. At that time, such a public gathering was unsafe and almost unthinkable. These women and men faced very real risks: loss of employment, sanctioned harassment and physical abuse. It was a quiet event within the park that day, more like a picnic, far from the crowded revelry that characterizes today’s Pride parade, one of the largest parades in the city. But right outside the park, there were menacing individuals cowardly calling for the violent removal of those who peacefully gathered within. That demonstration of bravery, unity and determination would help transform Jacksonville and challenge it to become a more inclusive city.
The flowering trees selected for Love Grove—dogwoods, magnolias, purple leaf plum, winged elms, live oaks and Florida red maple—are all species appropriate to this region and will provide the park with color all year long. The trees will be planted in clusters to supplement the existing tree canopy. Open pastures and fields will remain that way. This historic park has lost much of its original aging tree canopy over the years, and numerous tree stumps still remain, easily visible to park visitors.
The board of directors of the AIDS Memorial Project of NE Florida expresses its sincere thanks to Anna Dooley from Greenscape of Jacksonville, and Daryl Joseph and Jill Enz from the City of Jacksonville’s Parks, Recreation & Community Services Department, for co-sponsoring this civic event. Furthermore, we appreciate the support of Riverside Avondale Preservation. This project would have been impossible without the professional skills of landscape architect Scott Dowman.
Ceriello is president of the AIDS Memorial Project of NE Florida’s board of directors.