By Susie Steimle

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Former President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker Friday at a World AIDS Day event at San Francisco’s AIDS Memorial Grove.

It was President Clinton who signed legislation by U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) in 1996 designating the 10-acre grove as the nation’s only National AIDS Memorial.

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This year’s World AIDS Day events have the theme of Bending the Arc Toward Justice and will honor those who have made a difference in the fight against AIDS and celebrating the next generation of leaders, according to organizers.

His message Friday to a gathering of hundreds was one of unity.

“If we choose inclusion not division, cooperation not conflict … if we get the big things right we can keep bending the arc,” said Clinton.


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That arc is a reference to the moral arc Martin Luther King Jr. famously mentioned. “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice,” said Clinton.

Hundreds of names of the deceased were read aloud after the ceremony. Those who come to the grove say it’s hallowed ground.

The former president marveled at how far we’ve come since the early days of the AIDS crisis. “You forget what it was like, it’s important not to forget,” said Clinton.

Friday’s event marked more than 25 years since work first began in 1991 on an AIDS memorial at the site of the de Laveaga Dell in Golden Gate Park near the park’s tennis courts. It was conceived of by local activists in 1988 as a quiet place to grieve and remember those lost in the AIDS epidemic.

At 6 p.m. Friday, the grove was lit up for the “Light in the Grove” event, a nighttime vigil and “celebration of life.”

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