On April 8, 1990, 18-year-old Ryan White of Kokomo and later Cicero, Indiana died. Ryan’s five year fight against AIDS and prejudice eventually made him a hero around the world.
At a time when there was more fear than knowledge about AIDS, 13-year-old Ryan White’s battle to go to school at Western Middle in Russiaville became a part of the nightly news. There was enormous pressure from parents and faculty to bar Ryan from school premises. Ryan and his mother fought back, filing a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban. The court declined to hear the case until administrative appeals had been exhausted.
In 1985, Jeanne White said, “Maybe now everybody will get more informed on AIDS and get a chance, maybe it might be easier on him later, but we’re disappointed. He was really looking forward to going back to school.” In the meantime, the school set up a speaker phone, so Ryan could listen to his classes from home, but he couldn’t hear the teacher, unless she was talking directly into the microphone. The whole experiment failed. Afterward Ryan said: “It stunk!”
After several court battles, Ryan was readmitted to Western Middle for his 8th grade year. And though he played it down, it was an event. Behind the smiles, threats continued and when a bullet was fired through the White’s living room, Ryan and his family had had enough. They moved to Cicero, where Ryan enrolled at Hamilton Heights High School. The mood there was much different. Jeanne said at the time, “Everybody seemed like they’re looking forward to him going to their school and I’m going, really?”
All the publicity catapulted Ryan into the national spotlight. He appeared on the Phil Donahue Show. A movie was made about him. He was a celebrity among celebrities. By the spring of 1990, his health was deteriorating rapidly. Ryan White died at Riley Hospital April 8, 1990. Around 1500 people attended his funeral, including the late pop super star, Michael Jackson.
Ryan White’s struggle had ended but his legacy lives on. Before his death Ryan said, “I think a lot more people are not afraid of AIDS now and they’re not afraid of someone who has it and I think they’re more willing to accept people who have AIDS.”
Original Article can be found at WISHTV.com
* Reporter: David Barras
* Editor: Hyacinth Williams