The Power Of Sidewalk Chalk: INSCRIBE Returns To Castro For World AIDS Day

The Power Of Sidewalk Chalk: INSCRIBE Returns To Castro For World AIDS Day

Photo: Castro/Upper Market CBD/Facebook

Shane Downing
Published on November 30, 2016

Tomorrow, the Castro community will celebrate World AIDS Day with a gathering called INSCRIBE. For the second year running, neighbors and students from the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy will honor individuals who have died of AIDS by inscribing their names in sidewalk chalk along Castro Street. Everyone is welcome to participate.

The colorful tribute to AIDS victims, which has attracted international attention, is the brainchild of George Kelly, an AIDS survivor and longtime Castro neighbor.

Students from the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy will participate in tomorrow's event. | Photo: Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy/Facebook

This year, Kelly has partnered with Strut, which was still finding its feet during the inaugural INSCRIBE event last year. Strut's building will serve as the event’s home base, which Kelly says is a step up from last year’s command center: his apartment.

The event kicks off at 8am at Strut, where a short ceremony will include a blessing from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Following the ceremony, pails of chalk will be distributed and neighbors will begin writing on the sidewalk.

“Any musicians and community artists are welcome to come out in the morning, if they feel so moved, to come and contribute a piece of art in the spirit of the event,” said Kelly. “Especially for when the kids get there.”

Buckets of chalk will be scattered along Castro Street throughout the day. | Photo: Castro/Upper Market CBD/Facebook

At 10am, around 75 fourth- and fifth-grade students from the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, along with their teachers and parents, will arrive to begin writing the names of people who've died of AIDS on Castro Street’s sidewalks.

The education process for the students began the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when community volunteers, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative, visited three classrooms at the HMCRA, sharing their stories of the grief and loss of the epidemic with the students. 

Following the in-class discussion, the children were sent home with information on INSCRIBE and a permission slip to participate in the event. They were also asked to compile a list of victims' names to write on the sidewalk.

“These kids really get it,” said Kelly, who’s been volunteering at the academy for nearly two decades.

Students at last year's INSCRIBE event. | Photo: Castro/Upper Market CBD/Facebook

“This is really groundbreaking, what we’re doing: this type of education in the schools with actual members of the community who have lived through this experience and they’re sharing their stories,” said Kelly. “When the kids see these lists of names, it’s real for them.”

Photo: Castro/Upper Market CBD/Facebook

The children will depart the INSCRIBE event around noon, but pails of chalk will be scattered along Castro Street throughout the day, for those passing by to add the names of friends and loved ones who have died of AIDS.

“A lot of the names that will be on the sidewalks used to live in this neighborhood,” said Kelly. “They worked in the shops, they drank at the bars, they ate at the restaurant, they were patrons and business owners, and to have their memory brought back on the sidewalk in front of those establishments is an emotional experience.”

Neighbors will continue to decorate the sidewalk into tomorrow night. | Photo: Peg Hunger/Flickr

“INSCRIBE is a way of experiencing something that was so tragic and hard through fresh eyes—the eyes of children,” said Kelly. “We’re passing down the legacy of what we went through.”

“It’s a way of celebrating our memories and losses, and acknowledging that the fight is not over. It still goes on.”

In conjunction with tomorrow’s INSCRIBE event, Muni is donating shuttles that will run every 30 minutes between Castro and the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park. Other businesses and organizations participating in this year’s INSCRIBE event include Crayola, Cliff’s Variety, Starbucks, P.O. Plus, the Shanti Project, the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and the Castro Merchants.