Cleve Jones, founder of The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, was born in West Lafayette, Indiana in 1954. Cleve's career as an activist began in San Francisco during the turbulent 1970s, when he was befriended by 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. As 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. Independent affiliates of the NAMES Project are currently operating in 50 countries around the world, including Canada, South Africa, France, Holland, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, Australia, Taiwan and Russia. In 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.
As a dynamic and inspiring public speaker, Cleve Jones has travelled 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 Bush and Bill Clinton 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 gay rights organizations, religious conferences, state and national health associations and the state legislatures of California, Indiana and Massachusetts.
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 best-selling 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 and many other television and radio programs.
Cleve Jones currently lives in Palm Springs, California and works as a community organizer for the Hotel Workers Rising campaign of UNITE HERE, the international union representing textile, hotel and restaurant workers. He also served as historical consultant to "MILK" the Gus Van Sant motion picture about Harvey Milk. The film stars Sean Penn as Milk, Josh Brolin as the assassin Dan White and James Franco as Milk's partner Scott Smith. Emile Hirsch (“Into the Wild”, “Speed Racer”) portrays the young Cleve Jones.