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    Kids and Christmas and the Castro

    Photo By Christopher Turner

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    In the ever-changing landscape of our gayborhood, we see things one might not have imagined 10 or 20 years ago. Most of it is good. On any given day, you might see groups of exuberant, young school children walking in a group through the neighborhood. And they are marching with homemade signs promoting peace and love and equality. Where did they come from? What could they possibly be doing in the gayest zip code in America? And where are their teachers?

    They are doing what we wish every single elementary school student might be doing—learning what it means to exercise free speech! Who are they? Students at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy (HMCRA) … just a couple of blocks from 18th and Castro. And their teachers are leading the charge!

    Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy is a K–5 public school. It is the school we wished had existed when we were growing up. HMCRA includes the following on its website: “Our mission is to empower student learning by teaching awareness, acceptance and non-violence, celebrating our diversity, achieving academic excellence, and fostering strong family-school-community connections.”

    You’ll also see that one of the major funding events sponsored by the Parent Faculty Club is their annual Drag Show and Auction! We are not in Kansas anymore—or any other state, for that matter.

    In 2015, I was attending the November Castro Merchants meeting when a nice young woman stood up and rather shyly asked the business owners to help in a fundraising campaign being spearheaded by the parents at HMCRA. It was to raise funds for many of the things no longer being funded by the San Francisco Unified School District—like art, music and fresh fruit!

    I approached her and asked if the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) might help somehow. We came up with holiday buckets. No, not the red ones with the faux-army bell ringer raising money to assist with our salvation. Nope. We’re talking the big homo depot buckets, held by parents and kids, at our holiday concerts.

    Together, we raised just over $30,000. It worked so well that the school was able to fund several projects, among which was to help keep their beloved Kindergarten teacher, Ryan Swick, employed! This past fall, with his job at HMCRA secure, he finally found the time to join the chorus that helped those three years ago. He’ll be singing at all of the concerts with SFGMC this holiday.

    In Ryan’s words, “The last time we did this, the donation from the SFGMC allowed me to continue to thrive in a community at HMCRA where I felt a true sense of love and belonging. Now, I have the opportunity to sing with the same organization that saved my job! That same sense of love and belonging that Harvey Milk showed me has also been shown to me through Tim and the rest of the SFGMC, and for that I am truly grateful.”

    Outreach to Bay Area schools has become a passion for SFGMC. This past year, we launched RHYTHM: Reaching Youth Through Music. While intended for Bay Area middle and high schools, this very week, we will bring our music to the second elementary school! My, how those kids’ lives are touched and changed.

    On a personal note. Clara Skye [Tim Seelig’s granddaughter] and her parents put Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy as one of their three choices for kindergarten and beyond. Thanks to the efficiency of San Francisco’s public school lottery system, she did not get any of her three choices. I was particularly sad, since she would have been in school literally two blocks from the SFGMC offices! She did get to go to camp there one summer and just loved being surrounded by the beautiful colors of the rainbow—in every way.

    So, here we are 3 years later, and we are doing it again. Jeff Fassnacht, parent of a 5th grader at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, said, “We had been told it was a one-time engagement, and yet here we are invited to benefit again from the SFGMC community’s generosity. To me, this is an investment in our neighborhood school’s mission of social justice, equity in education, and a living example of what it means to support your community.”

    This initiative will help fund some of the following:

    • $25 helps with classroom supplies;
    • $50 buys new library books;
    • $100 provides fresh fruit for one classroom for two months;
    • $250 supports technology and science education;
    • $500 contributes to professional development for our teachers;
    • $1,000 rents a bus for a field trip;
    • $2,500 helps keep art and music classes.

    HMCRA Principal, Ronnie Machado, reports, “I am very excited to have the opportunity to team with SFGMC again this year! The funds raised will have a direct positive impact on our students while strengthening relationships within our Castro community, all of us coming together to give our children more of what they need and deserve. We are very fortunate to have people like Tim Seelig and the members of the SFGMC in our local community!”

    Please come hear us sing at one of our six San Francisco holiday shows at the Nourse Theater on December 7 and 8, or the Castro Theatre on Christmas Eve. You’ll be greeted by a host of kids and parents! You’ll see eyes and faces light up when you drop a dollar (or a hundred) in the buckets!
    Ticket information is here: https://www.sfgmc.org/

    If you are not able to make it to one of our concerts, you can still make a donation to these wonderful neighborhood friends at https://harveymilksf.com/

    What could be better at the holidays than music, children and giving? With your help, we can make 2019 a very happy new year for these beautiful children in our neighborhood. Look for a bucket near you!

    Happy Holidays,
    Tim

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.