Cleve Jones

Founder, The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt

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Cleve Jones, founder of The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, was born in West Lafayette, Indiana on October 11, 1954.


Cleve's career as an activist began in San Francisco during the turbulent 1970s, when he met pioneer gay rights leader Harvey Milk. Following Milk's election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Cleve worked as a student intern in Milk's office while studying political science at San Francisco State University. Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978, and Cleve dropped out of school to work in Sacramento as a legislative consultant to California State Assembly Speakers Leo T. McCarthy and Willie L. Brown, Jr.


In 1982, Cleve returned to San Francisco to work in the district office of State Assemblyman Art Agnos. He was elected to three terms on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and served on local and state commissions for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention and the Mission Mental Health Community Advisory Board. One of the first to recognize the threat of AIDS, Cleve co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 1983.


Cleve Jones conceived the idea of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at a candlelight memorial for Harvey Milk in 1985 and created the first quilt panel in honor of his close friend Marvin Feldman in 1987. Since then, the AIDS Memorial Quilt has grown to become the world's largest community arts project, memorializing the lives of over 85,000 Americans killed by AIDS, and thousands more worldwide.


A dynamic and inspiring public speaker, Cleve travels extensively throughout the United States and around the world, lecturing at high schools, colleges and universities. He has met with heads of state, including Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and former South African President Nelson Mandela. In 1989, Cleve was awarded Honorary Doctorates from Haverford College and the Starr King School for the Ministry. He has also received numerous awards from AIDS and LGBT rights organizations, religious conferences, state and national health associations and the state legislatures of California, Indiana and Massachusetts.


On December 1, 1999, Cleve Jones was a keynote speaker at the opening of the Parliament of World Religions in Cape Town, South Africa, where AIDS Memorial Quilt panels from South Africa, Europe and the United States were displayed. In 2000, Cleve helped organize an 8-city US tour of the South African AIDS Memorial Quilt with the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and Ms. Coretta Scott King.


Cleve Jones has served as a member of the International Advisory Board of the Harvard AIDS Institute, the National Board of Governors of Project Inform and the Board of Directors of the Foundation for AIDS and Immune Research. His first memoir, "Stitching a Revolution", was published by HarperCollins in April 2000. Cleve's work has been featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary, "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt" and on 60 Minutes, Nightline, Charlie Rose, Good Morning America, Oprah, National Public Radio, Frontline, the Larry King Show and many other television and radio programs.


Cleve played a critical role in the production of the film “MILK” and served as historical consultant to the 2008 Gus Van Sant film by Dustin Lance Black about Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn as Milk, Emile Hirsch as the young Cleve Jones, Josh Brolin as the assassin Dan White and James Franco as Milk's partner Scott Smith. Penn and Black won Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for their work on “MILK.”


Jones was one of the principal organizers of the National Equality March, which drew over 100,000 to Washington, DC on October 11, 2009.


His second memoir, “When We Rise: My Life in the Movement” was published by Hachette Book Group in September 2016 and won a Lambda Literary Award for best memoir. An ABC miniseries partly inspired by the memoir, scripted by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Gus Van Sant, aired in 2017.


Cleve Jones lives in San Francisco, California and works as an organizer for UNITE HERE, the international union representing hotel, casino, food service and restaurant workers throughout the United States and Canada