Jeanne White Ginder Receives Extraordinary Response to Ryan White Letter Project

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More than 6,000 letters written to AIDS Activist Ryan White are being digitized so they will eventually be accessible for others to read. Almost 27 years to the day after his death (April 8, 1990), the young boy who fought to attend school despite his illness is still transforming lives.

Ryan White Letters project

He would say Mom, I’m not fighting this alone. All of these people are fighting with me. For me, as a mom, to see this reaction so many years later, it is like he is still alive and still touching people. I couldn’t be more proud.

The recreated bedroom of Ryan White was packed at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis today as his mother told a story of triumph.

It has been 27 years almost to the day (April 8, 1990) that the Indiana teenager who became internationally known when he contracted HIV/AIDS passed away. But today, his mother talked about the courage Ryan had in the face of adversity and shared a message of hope for others who may be facing a deadly disease or ridicule.

Jeanne White Ginder told the crowd how the archive of nearly 6,000 letters Ryan received before he died will now be made public through a digital learning project. The Children’s Museum plans to build upon its permanent exhibit, The Power of Children: Making a Difference, by creating a series of digital educational programs and a research archive using a collection of letters Ryan White received (most of them from children).

“By engaging students who are close in age to Ryan when he faced such difficult challenges, we hope to give today’s youth a voice to encourage acceptance and understanding of the extraordinary challenges faced by many. With that voice, they each have the power to transform the world,” said Dr. Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

Ryan’s mom couldn’t agree more, “It was a highlight of Ryan’s day to receive those letters in the mail – sometimes 50 a day,” said Jeanne White Ginder. “He would say Mom, I’m not fighting this alone. All of these people are fighting with me. For me, as a mom, to see this reaction so many years later, it is like he is still alive and still touching people. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Some of the letters are already on display within The Power of Children exhibit. The rest are in the process of being scanned. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis received a Museums for America grant of $102,370 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to create The Ryan White Letters project. The digitized collection will offer significant cultural information related to the AIDS epidemic, the perspective of children, and related issues of tolerance, education, and inspiration as well as a window to popular culture of the 1980s.

Only a handful of AIDS archives exist today, and none focus on a child’s perspective, making this a unique resource for anyone with an interest in the topic of AIDS, social change, and the experience of children. The Ryan White Letters project is one way for scholars to use the information as part of their research regarding the misunderstood disease and for the museum to share the legacy of Ryan White for generations to come through unique lesson plans.

If you or anyone you know wrote a letter to Ryan White, the museum would love to hear about it. Please send a message to tcmarchives(at)childrensmuseum(dot)org and include your name, contact information, and anything you remember about what you sent to Ryan. The museum will contact you to be a continuing part of the project. The digital collection should be available at The Children’s Museum in the spring or summer of 2018. Names of the letter writers will be redacted unless the museum receives consent.

Video of Ryan’s letters being scanned for the digital letter project along with more high resolution images are available upon request as well as more video of Jeanne White Ginder visiting with children and families at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

About The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is a nonprofit institution committed to creating extraordinary learning experiences across the arts, sciences, and humanities that have the power to transform the lives of children and families. For more information about The Children's Museum, follow us on Twitter @TCMIndy, Instagram@childrensmuseum, YouTube.com/IndyTCM, and Facebook.

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Kimberly Harms
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
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