Under a clear blue sky on a Saturday morning, staff and supporters of San Francisco City FC gather in Golden Gate Park to spend the morning beautifying the National AIDS Memorial Grove.
The Premier Development League soccer club calls Kezar Stadium home, which makes them practically next door neighbors to the Memorial Grove. But it still surprised development manager Steve Sagaser when he got a call from the team asking if they could spend a day helping out in the neighborhood.
“I don’t recall a sports team working with us before,” said Sagaser. “We weren’t expecting it when they called and we are so grateful for them.”
Approximately 30 of the club’s fans and staff members worked in the grove alongside members from Google’s gay employees resource group called The Gayglers, San Francisco Spikes Soccer Club, and members of the community, including those who have lost family members to AIDS.
The morning of service opened with a greeting from executive director John Cunningham, who asked those gathered to observe a moment of silence to remember the 49 lives lost in the Pulse nightclub shooting six days earlier. Board member Kory Powell-McCoy then called those gathered to action, urging them to continue to display acts of love to one another and to call their representatives about gun control.
The National AIDS Memorial Grove was created during the height of the AIDS epidemic as a place of reflection and healing for those affected by the virus. It hosts 16 workdays a year when the public or corporate groups pull weeds, place rocks and tend to the flora of the grove.
“It’s a place of healing,” said executive director John Cunningham. “It was created as a grassroots, local project to seek healing. That has continued every single month.”
Casey Proud, a member of the City FC supporters group known as the Northsiders who also serves as a supporter representative on the team’s board of directors, believes that community service and soccer go hand in hand.
“We’ve mandated that part of what we do is get involved with and give back to the community,” Proud said. “We want to do 300 man hours of community service every year.”
The Northsiders gather in the north side of the Kezar Stadium stands on gamedays, loudly singing to encourage their team on the pitch as they bang drums and wave flags in the air. Among the city of San Francisco and team flags, the group has taken to flying a few rainbow flags.
Proud said it’s because the Northsiders want everyone to know they are welcome in their ranks. “Our space is a bigotry-free zone,” Proud said. “We don’t accept hateful words in our section, that’s not what we’re about. Rascism, sexism, that kind of stuff, we’re not about that.”