INDIANAPOLIS — It happened in Kokomo, but it could have happened anywhere in the United States.

That’s the message the Indianapolis Children’s Museum is offering as part of a Ryan White exhibit.

“I’m from Kokomo” is a one-actor presentation that takes place in the recreated bedroom of White in the “Power of Children” exhibit area of the museum.

On Saturday, the actor was Aaron Bonds.

Bonds plays the part of Drew, a member of the museum’s cleaning crew who’s asked by a co-worker to talk to the audience about his childhood friendship with White after the actor scheduled to speak is unable to be found.

So, Drew tells those gathered about growing up in Kokomo and how life changed when White was diagnosed with AIDS.

He tells the audience that all the items in the exhibit came from White’s bedroom and were donated to the museum by Ryan’s mother, Jeannie.

Being in the recreated room takes him back to his childhood.

“I’ve been in his room when we were kids in Kokomo,” he said. “Ryan was a nice kid.

“I enjoyed being a kid in Kokomo,” Drew continues. “It was a nice place to grow up.”

But things changed in 1984.

That’s the year attempts were made to keep White from attending Western Schools.

“When people hear ‘I’m from Kokomo,’ they think I’m a bad person,” Drew said.

He explains that White contracted the AIDS virus by accident, through Factor 8 for hemophilia.

“It was scary for us,” he said, adding little was known about AIDS. “It didn’t have to be Ryan, it would have been someone else. It happened in Kokomo, but it could have happened anywhere else.”

He recalled parents being scared and doing anything to keep their children safe.

“People did things on reflex, not really thinking,” he said. “There were mean things done to Ryan. He was called horrible names.”

Drew never stood up for his friend when things got bad.

“I should have done more,” he said. “It was our town, [it] had a reputation for intolerance and prejudice. There were people on Ryan’s side.”

After White moved to Cicero, Drew recalled, things in Kokomo returned to normal, but it was not the same.

“Like the town lost something,” he said.

He remembered how White would say that it’s never too late to make a difference.

“Maybe I can help someone else,” he said. “Volunteer or be a better friend. Make a difference.”

Following the performance, Bonds talked about how tough the role of Drew is to play.

“I had to find ways to be awkward to give reality to it,” he said.

Bonds takes questions from audience members after the performance. Many ask questions from adults pertain to AIDS and White’s life.

He said younger kids tend to ask about the connection to celebrities like Michael Jackson and Elton John.

He hoped his performance Saturday would change some minds about how people in the Kokomo area reacted to the news of a child having AIDS wanted to attend a local school.

“We hope people get a different sense of Kokomo,” he said. “Everyone acts the same when they’re scared. [It’s] not fair to label people for the way they reacted. Parents will protect their kids.”

React to this story:


Trending Video

Recommended for you