December 4, 2008 - Cleve Jones' 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, Jones 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 Nov. 27, 1978, and Jones 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, Jones returned to San Francisco to work in the district office of State Assembly member 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.
Jones conceived the idea of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at a candlelight memorial for 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.
A dynamic and inspiring public speaker, Jones 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 Bush and Bill Clinton and former South African President Nelson Mandela. In 1989, Jones 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.
On Dec. 1, 1999, 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, Jones helped organize an eight-city U.S. tour of the South African AIDS Memorial Quilt with the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and Ms. Coretta Scott King.
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. Jones' 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.
Jones currently lives in Palm Springs 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 recently released Gus Van Sant film about Harvey Milk.