Yesterday, at a bus stop in the middle of Ground Zero, a classroom of 4th and 5th graders took chalk in hand and started writing the names of people who had died of AIDS on the sidewalk, along with rainbows, hearts and flowers.
Other classes were at other bus stops. The bustling life that is the Castro passing by, sometimes looking up from their phones, sometimes with intent to join the event. Sometimes asked if they wanted to participate by one of the more friendly students with the sincere ask of:
“Do you have any names of people who have died from AIDS you’d like us to write on the sidewalk?”
This, in a nutshell, is the action piece that is INSCRIBE, George Kelly’s inspired World AIDS Day event held on December 1 for the past 3 years.
It connects students from a local elementary to the school’s neighborhood – one rich in history and cultural significance to the LGBTQ community and San Francisco.
It connects generations. Long term survivors, many shunned and shamed by their biological families who were forbidden relationships with nieces and nephews interacting and educating a generation yet to fully understand some of life’s more challenging components.
It connects communities. This year in particular, many more of the faculty and staff participated. As I was looking around the room of Strut, the SFAF’s clinic in the Castro, I realize what an oddly intimate moment this must be for a lot of people…and we gays were fabulous hosts! How many straight parents would ever think of taking their kids to an HIV/AIDS & mental health clinic for a musical performance and pizza and learning about HIV and the history of the Castro?
It connects people to healing and growth. In ways I’m sure I can’t explain here, but for me, the impact has been profound. It was last year as I was doing HIV education in a classroom that I did the math and realized that my nieces were the ages of the students when I received my diagnosis, which was quickly followed by a firm: “We don’t want you around our kids.” from my family. That’s on them, and it’s their loss, but the shame and hurt of the action was profound. I had an unfounded fear of being around children that I thought I’d never be able to overcome thinking I was in some way a danger to them. The science in 2017 is that Undetectable = Untransmittable.
One last anecdote from the day: several of the photos in the album were taken by the students themselves. It was a request I could hardly refuse when asked “Can I take a picture?” said with such enthusiasm and curiosity. As I let each student take their turn, all of a sudden one of the shyer students appeared and asked if they could take a picture? With a few simple instructions and some help they were soon snapping away.
It’s the first time this year I’ve seen a genuine smile on that student’s face.
It melted my heart.
Here are some of their highlights for you to enjoy: