Ruth received The Hero Award at the 2019 Attitude Awards presented by Attitude Magazine.
Awareness, Inspiration and Compassion from a Straight Ally
Ruth is an award-winning speaker and soon-to-be author. She brings authenticity, new life and connection whenever she speaks. Ruth captivates audiences at colleges and universities around the country.
Ruth's Story: The Accidental AIDS Activist
Ruth dedicates herself to mentoring and teaching activists and advocate of all ages, reminding them that you do not need to be famous, rich or formally educated to be an effective activist. You simply have to do the work. Ruth's story is a testament to the belief that long-lasting change comes from the grassroots efforts of regular people.
Caring for People Living with AIDS/HIV
Ruth has cared for and helped bury over 1,000 people. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the National Institute of Health sent their professionals to investigate how Ruth’s patients were living, on average, two years longer than others.
Ruth Coker Burks cared for hundreds of dying people, many of them gay men who had been abandoned by their families. She buried more than three dozen of them herself, after their families refused to claim their bodies. For many of those people, she is now the only person who knows the location of their graves.
It started in 1984, in a hospital hallway. Ruth Coker Burks was 25 and a young mother when she went to University Hospital in Little Rock, Ark., to help care for a friend who had cancer.
Ruth Coker Burks had forty children, all of them boys. Let’s travel back to 1984, when an AIDS diagnosis was considered a death sentence. Her matriarchal journey took a new route when she visited a friend, who was battling cancer, at a hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, her hometown. On her way to the room, she noticed a patient’s door draped with a red bag. The next day, she passed the door again, observing nurses draw straws to see who would go in. Ruth had an idea what was going on.
Due to curiosity or chosen by a higher power, as she believes today, Ruth surreptitiously entered. She saw an emaciated young man. Once they started chatting, he asked for his mother.
Ruth Coker Burks was a young mother in her early 20s when the AIDS epidemic hit her home state of Arkansas. Despite having no medical training, Ruth took it upon herself to care for those suffering from the disease when their families, and even trained medical professionals, abandoned them.
Ruth estimates that she cared for nearly a thousand people since the early 1980s, with one of those being Paul Wineland’s partner. Ruth and Paul sat down for StoryCorps to talk about her experience visiting a friend at a Little Rock hospital where one of the state’s early AIDS patients lay dying. Then, Ruth sat down with her friend Jim Harwood, one father who stayed by his son’s side.
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