Written By Caroline Gold, Amber Zeise, Gabriella Rodgers
“People called the Tenderloin District in San Francisco ‘the last circle of hell, because no matter how quickly you drove through it, you couldn’t help seeing the poor, the addicted, the sick, the homeless, and the mentally ill, many of them lying if not dying in the streets. You couldn’t look away from wildly dressed sex workers of all genders (there were more than two) getting clubbed by the police. You’d see flophouses, whorehouses, drug and porno houses, runaway teenagers selling their bodies, cruising johns, and ex-cons. By reputation, the Tenderloin was a filthy, seedy, crime-ridden hellhole that nobody wanted to visit.” – Rev. Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani, Beyond the Possible
On an average day in the San Francisco Tenderloin neighborhood, the blocks leading up to GLIDE are crowded with people who live on the margins lining up for daily free meals, shelter reservations and other much needed services. People on the streets appear to be lying on the sidewalks or loitering on street corners. Sunday, July 12, 2015 disrupted what some would consider your average day in the Tenderloin, it was a great day in the Tenderloin!
Sunday Streets is an open festival encouraging recreation, community activities, and fun in the streets of San Francisco. In honor of the event, GLIDE transformed Ellis Street between Jones and Leavenworth into our very own block party. With numerous streets blocked off to automobile traffic, the Tenderloin welcomed both community residents and outsiders into the festivities. Embracing the uniqueness of the Tenderloin has been integral to GLIDE’s history since Rev. Cecil Williams opened the doors of GLIDE Church to all in 1963.
Kristen Growney Yamamoto, GLIDE’s Co-Executive Director shared, “GLIDE loves the people who live in the Tenderloin. Everyday, they exude beauty, resilience, and potential. Sunday Streets offers a chance for this community to come together in celebration.” We witnessed the community come alive through dance and connection under the rare San Francisco sunshine. Yamamoto continues, “The Tenderloin is our home. Because of that and our belief in the people here, we were inspired to create a special and unique contribution for the entire neighborhood and GLIDE family.”
The party welcomed people from all walks of life with a large scale LEGO build of the GLIDE Logo hosted by Play-Well TEKnologies. Kids, parents, and neighbors worked together all day to build a life-size GLIDE heart. Jeff Harry, the Vice President of Marketing and Fun noted, “I believe building the GLIDE LEGO heart as a collective group embodied what it means to be a part of the community. Everyone contributes their own unique piece to the puzzle.” It was inspiring to see such a wide variety of people come together to create a one-of-a-kind piece of art. He continued, “The connections are real and genuine, and isn’t that what people are looking for in life?” The energy around the collaboration was contagious, and it was almost impossible to get near the project without wanting to participate in the fun.
Further down the block, Pastor Theon Johnson III and GLIDE’s congregational life team hosted a large-scale Jenga tournament for all who were interested in participating. The competition grew fierce as various members of the community stepped forward to challenge one another. The crowds that formed throughout the day were energetic in cheering on each competitor. Theon embraced the nature of the competition and the day as a whole when he remarked, “Each day, GLIDE works to equip people with the resources they need to gain control over their lives through the power of storytelling. For five hours, 2015 Sunday Streets provided an opportunity for the TL to craft another story.” The TL story is not always an uplifting one, but as Theon shared, “GLIDE joined community partners in creating an alternative narrative with our community.”
In addition to the fun and interactive activities described above, many of GLIDE’s programs were stationed in tents throughout the block. GLIDE staff from the Women’s Center; the Family, Youth, and Childcare Center; the Family Resource Center; the Walk-In Center; Men In Progress; Recovery; and the HIV/HEP C programs spent the day providing information and engaging in edutainment activities with the community. We spoke to Stephanie Gonzalez, a member of the GLIDE women’s center staff, and she said, “The core value that I see is unconditional love, that’s what I see out there! I see every race, I see kids; you just see everybody having a good time.”
Twitter team members volunteered and supported the GLIDE staff in the production of this year’s event. Adejire Bademosi, Twitter’s Community Outreach Fellow, echoed these sentiments when she commented, “GLIDE is a model of unconditional love. It’s truly an impactful organization that ties everyone together.” To top it all off, those who participated in these activities received a raffle ticket and were able to select their favorite San Francisco Giants giveaway items as prizes.
Towards the end of the block, professional face painters turned kids and adults alike into super heroes, rainbows, and animals, to name a few. To capture the memories, we, the GLIDE’s Special Events, Civic and Social Innovation interns, created and ran our own photo booth, which included a number of funky costume accessories. Working the photo booth allowed us the unique opportunity to engage with almost everyone at the event. It is not everyday that these individuals experience joy in their lives, but we captured the smiling faces of parents and their children, GLIDE staff, program participants, volunteers, and more.
Holding the entire event together at the very end of the block was DJ King Most. Here, all sectors of the community gathered and enjoyed dancing to his beats all day long. DJ King Most expressed, “Giving the neighborhood a few hours of escape via dancing, singing, and listening to music in an otherwise tough environment was humbling and genuinely moving.” Stephanie agreed when she said, “I love dancing, I think it just brings everybody together. A lot of times you may see just the young people dancing, but I saw people getting out of their wheelchairs, okay? I saw people on their canes, you know, like still trying to dance, and it just is awesome how we all can just hear this one song and fly [to the dance floor].” And we ran right along with them; dancing until sweat dripped down our faces. The community was not divided into program participants and providers or homeless and housed, but instead became a group of people experiencing the joy of freedom alongside one another.
The Tenderloin neighborhood has been defined as a place full of hardship and high-stress situations but Sunday’s festivities offered an opportunity for relief. Dori Caminong, Manager of Special Events and Civic + Social Innovation exclaimed, “The 400 block of Ellis was HOT and we, the Tenderloin, went HARD! We Jenga’d, danced, played, built, learned, loved, and lived together as the beloved community.”
The neighborhood was full of smiles and laughter. Strangers from both in and outside of the Tenderloin community came together to pose for pictures, dance down the soul train line, and simply have a good time. Dori continued, “The blissed out faces of block party goers were deeply inspiring and created a beautifully human experience powered by unconditional love and acceptance. It was an honor to curate this moment for the GLIDE family.” As new members of the GLIDE family, we felt lucky to experience the vibrancy and life that the community has to offer.
To see the full photography of GLIDE’s Sunday Streets Block party, visit GLIDE’s Facebook page.
Caroline Gold is a junior studying Human Development and Psychological Services at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. On campus, she is primarily involved in Peer Health Exchange, through which she teaches comprehensive health education classes in Chicago public schools. This summer, Caroline is interning in the Special Events Department at GLIDE, where she hopes to discover a balance between direct service and administrative work. Gabriella Rodgers is a fourth year majoring in Sociology at the University of California Berkeley. She is involved in the Black community and racial justice movement on her campus. At GLIDE she interns under the Special Events and Fund Development departments, looking to gain knowledge on how non-profit organizations support themselves and reach out to their community. Amber Zeise studies Psychology and Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley. On campus, she is involved in the Body Positive movement and sexual assault awareness and prevention. At GLIDE, Amber is interning for Dori Caminong in Special Events in order to learn innovative ways to educate the masses about social movements in hopes of incorporating this into her future.