CLEVE JONES, founder of The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, began his career as an activist 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, Cleve worked as a student intern in Milk's office while studying political science at San Francisco State University. With Milk's assination in November 1978, Cleve dropped out of school to work as a legislative consultant to California State Assembly Speakers Leo T. McCarthy and Willie L. Brown. Jr.

In 1982 Cleve returned to San Francisco to work in the district office of State Assemblyman Art Agnos. One of the first to recognize the true threat of AIDS to the LGBT community, he co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 1983. Shortly thereafter Cleve conceived the idea for the AIDS Memorial Quilt and eventually created the first quilt panel in honor of his close friend Marvin Feldman in 1987.