Elementary students write names for chalk AIDS memorial

- Even though the AIDS epidemic had its darkest years long before they were born, some elementary school students  in San Francisco's Castro District on Tuesday created a touching tribute to those who died from the disease.

Using pieces of chalk, students from the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy wrote the names of some of those who died from the disease on the sidewalks of Castro Street.

"Just to be able to write their names so people can see it when they walk down the street it would mean a lot to them," said Harvey Milk fifth grader Tula DeLong.

Delong is one of dozens of fourth and fifth graders from the school out on the streets Tuesday participating in the event. 

"It's really sad people were scared of the disease, because there was no cure for it for a very long time. And people were dying from it," DeLong said.

The event, called "Inscribe," was coordinated by longtime school volunteer, community organizer and long-term HIV survivor, George Kelly.

The project also remembers Tom Ryan, a teacher at Harvey Milk who died of AIDS about 4 years ago. He was known affectionately by students as "Mr. Tom." 

The names were provided to the children by their own families and by people from the community. The children wrote as many as they could in a few hours as a tribute.

But along the way, passers-by saw what they were doing and requested names of their own to be added to the tribute.

One man requested the name of his best friend who died 20 years ago.

"That's what I told the girls. He was my secret keeper and i believe once he passed on his spirit has allowed me to go on all these years," said San Francisco resident Bobby Spencer.

One of the students asked KTVU reporter Rob Roth for a name. He gave him Stan Schaefer. Stan was the partner of a former long-time editor at KTVU, Bill Longen. Stan died of AIDS. He was way too young.

"I think today's event will re-emphasize it's not over. It's still an epidemic," said Kelly.

As sad as much of this is, the young students say they feel a connection to it all now.

"I think it helps other people. And the memories. So they could feel joy and stuff," said fifth grader KJ Bell.

The chalk memorial may not last through the next drizzly day, but the memories will survive.


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