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AIDS Activist Robert Ames Remembered

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By D. Kevin McNeir

It might be a cliché but Chicago AIDS activist Robert Lee Ames, Jr., 41, 'fought the good fight' with grace, style and hope until recently taking his last breath. And as friends, family and those with whom we worked continue to attest, his dedication to HIV/AIDS education and prevention is why so many refer to his life and the legacy that he leaves as the product of a true trailblazer.

Ames's work as an activist, community organizer and leader started in 1990 when he began volunteering at South Side Help Center, first as a prevention specialist and later moving up the ranks to organizational specialist.

In fact, it was a combination of his zeal and the training he received under the center's founder and director, Betty Smith, which led him to an opportunity to work with the founding board members of Taskforce AIDS Prevention. As Taskforce grew, he began to volunteer and offer his expertise in many areas.

When Taskforce looked for its first executive director, Ames was tagged as the person for the job and, under his tutelage, the agency expanded, becoming one of the city's leading providers of HIV/AIDS and related services to people of color on Chicago's South Side.

During his funeral service, many of his friends spoke about the effect he had on our community and their lives.

'Where would we be without the leadership of Robert Ames?' asked the Rev. Alma Crawford, senior pastor of Church of the Open Door. 'We must take on the responsibility of the work for which he was known and respected—teaching and training others in HIV/AIDS education.'

Co-pastor and principal officiating minister, the Rev. Thom Ford, referred to Ames in his eulogy as a trailblazer. 'Like those who came before him and were known as trailblazers, Robert [ Ames ] believed in the vision of a better quality of life for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS,' Ford said. 'And he led his life with that vision as his primary calling. Even during the latter stage of his illness, he would often get out of his bed to go work on a proposal or a grant. He just refused to stop.'

Ames' mother, Lauretha Ames, sat down with Identity to talk about her son. 'What do I remember most about my son?' she asked. 'He was a real person—very giving and determined who had more than just good intentions. He sought ways to educate himself so he would know what he was talking about and he surrounded himself with people who had knowledge and were doing quality things for the community.'

'The real gift he gave us was a lesson in how to collaborate successfully with other agencies,' said Betty Smith. 'He brought four organizations together to establish MOCHA [ Men of Color HIV/AIDS ] and when we all first met at the table we did not know one another. But to Robert that didn't matter. What did matter was that we were all working to provide our people with HIV/AIDS education, training and prevention techniques. He was a champion in the fight against AIDS.'

South Side Help Center has established an award in Ames's memory—the Robert Ames Award for Excellence in Community Service.

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