San Francisco continues to provide support for the victims of the Camp Fire through a cappella and choir.
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus hosted a concert on Sunday at the Bahá’í Center of San Francisco to benefit the undocumented and youth victims of the Camp Fire. The concert featured musical groups from the SFGMC like the Lollipop Guild and the Homophonics, as well as main act Bobby Jo Valentine, a northern Californian singer and songwriter.
SF State alumnus Michael Barbarino participated in the concert as part of SFGMC. Barbarino studied music at SF State, which launched him into pursuing choir with the SFGMC. He described how SF State helped him find his identity, and expressed appreciation for the opportunities the university provided him, including the chance to work with well-known musicians.
As part of the SFGMC, Barbarino has been able to be more of an activist, rallying support for politicians, marches and, in this case, the people of Paradise who were devastated by the Camp Fire.
The benefit concert comes as part of a series put on by Valentine, who has raised $65,000 in the seven benefit concerts he has done so far. This was his first collaboration with SFGMC.
Valentine felt a personal resonance with the devastation caused by the Camp Fire, as his house burned down in the Napa fires of 2017.
“My house was part of the houses that burned down and it was amazing to see the community that rallied around those who had lost their homes, so I just wanted to do the same,” he said.
The concert gathered donations from community members in attendance. With a donation goal for the night set at $5,000 to go to Paradise High School, the goal was surpassed at over $6,000. Shawn Howell, chorus director at Paradise High and Paradise Middle schools, accepted the award. His students were greatly affected by the fires, with 33 of 35 of his students losing their homes.
Howell believes that music brings the students together in this difficult time and provides them with therapeutic relief, security and trust among each other.
“My heart was breaking for these kids, so my first thought was music — we need normalcy, we need music,” Howell said. He emphasized that throughout the tragic events, he discovered how much healing power music holds.
The healing power of music and the camaraderie felt within a music department is something that resonates with Barbarino.
“I know firsthand that the music department is a second family for many students. For some, this is their only safe space,” he said. “It is a great feeling to be able to help raise money so these students can continue to do what they love without any financial burdens.”
In addition to the $6,000 raised by the audience for Paradise High School, a $7,500 check was presented by the Rainbow World Fund to Debra Lucero, District 2 supervisor of Butte County, with the purpose of helping undocumented victims of the fire.
“[The undocumented] community faces a lot of challenges in that a lot of the emergency funds are not available to them,” Jeff Cotter, executive director of the Rainbow World Fund, said. Cotter described that there is a lack of services for unemployed undocumented victims after the fire, and the services that are available are not pursued by undocumented victims because of the current political climate.
According to Lucero, the money raised will go to the Northern Valley Catholic Social Services, as they are assisting in finding missing undocumented people.
“I think that the message that I took back from this group is that there’s so much acceptance here that I’m hoping our community will always remember the acceptance San Francisco gave to them in our greatest time of need,” she said.
Valentine feels satisfied with the effort and music he put forward to benefit the people of Paradise.
“I feel like it was worth it to take the time to do this,” he said. “The music sounds better when you know it’s for a great cause.”