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Heritage Camp frees Bayview children to flourish in African American culture

Hope, love and happiness prevail over the many themes expressed at Bret Harte's Summer Heritage Camp. Using an enriching blend of celebratory dance, song, cultural history - and a kaleidoscope of artistic expression - young students from Bayview and surrounding neighborhoods are getting a high dose of positive reinforcements while, at the same time, having the fun kids just love - and have - to have.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Pat Murphy

Copyright fogcityjournal.com 2006

August 6, 2006

The light of resilience shone this week in the faces of Bayview children freed to flourish in their unique culture.

Taught fully their culture in summer camp, they become more embracing of any and all cultures, Brotha Clint explained at Heritage Camp graduation ceremonies.

Brotha Clint, San Francisco School District counselor and liaison, emcees Brett Harte Elementary School festivities for the first 150 graduates of the eight week summer Camp Heritage.

Camp Heritage is one component of the City's Communities of Opportunity (COO) project which first centered within the Alice Griffith housing project.

Pupils attend Heritage summer class from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. five days weekly.

Parents were so responsive to recruitment that COO now is expanding earlier than planned to Bayview Hunters Point , Sunnydale, and West Point housing projects, Mayor Gavin Newsom told the Sentinel.

"This is just a real bright light and it happened because someone in the private sector stepped up and wanted to contribute real dollars," Newsom noted of the private-public partnership.

The Annenberg Foundation provided initial program funding.

Other foundations quickly came onboard including the Walter and Elise Haas Foundation, the Stuart Foundation, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Foundation, the Peter Haas Foundation, the California Endowment Foundation, United Way, the Cowell Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, and the Annenberg Foundation.

"And we are in communication with the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation and in conversations with Warren Hellman," noted COO Director Dwayne Jones.

"It gave us an opportunity to do something extraordinary with the Communities of Opportunity Center in Alice Griffith, and to do things that frankly had never been done in this community," Newsom added.

"It's just the beginning.

"We're going to roll this thing out in four nodes throughout the southeast sector and then ultimately in the Western Addition.

"That is something that as much as anything that I've been involved with I'm as proud or more pound of this than anything else.

"This is pretty exhilarating experience personally for me and obviously it's made a real impact for these kids."

Mayor Newsom is swept up in the children's joy with, from left, District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, Communities of Opportunity (COO) Director Dwayne Jones, and COO Deputy Director Fred Blackwell.

Nine-year-old Daveyon Sampson walks the mayor through moments she captured photographing her progress through Camp Heritage. At left, Newsom School Adviser Hydra Mendoza enjoys the fifth grader's personal panorama.

Jones explained how neighborhood parents were recruited.

"We went door-to-door and marketed the program to all the households within the housing development and the surrounding area," he recalled.

"The program is actually a version of the national Freedom School program funded out of the Department of Education," detailed Jones.

"We call this program Heritage Camp largely because it has a real strong heritage perspective from the lens of Bayview residents here.

"It is intensive reading and educational enrichment from a broadly different perspective, from a community serving role, from a conflict resolution role, from a peer education role.

"We had 350 parents actually apply and had to raise additional resources to get the 150 kids in," recalled Jones.

"It's the first time in my knowledge that we actually had to turn away parents who had gone through a competitive process to get their kids into a program."

Heritage teachers and graduates gathered Wednesday to demonstrate learning through dance, rap, song, and voiced what they learned.

"This summer we've been here sharing with children the history of the African American people," keynoted school district liaison and counselor Brotha Clint, "The culture of African American people."

"Color doesn't mean anything. Race means nothing.

"You might as well be talking about what color are your tennis shoes, what kind of sandwich you ate yesterday. It's that irrelevant what color someone's skin is.

"But what is important is the culture you embrace, and a culture is something that a lot of people share - the food they eat, the dance, the language.

"So we as African American people have a culture as well.

"We're so rich in our culture. We're not up from slavery. We're down from the pyramids.

"We're a magnificent people.

"I think that is what our mayor has recognized and why he has got so much heat for supporting things that made the other people think it is not such a trendy way to go," continued Brotha Clint.

Bayview was chosen as the initial COO site. It is a mammoth undertaking in a neighborhood where unfolding development capital burgeons to $1 billion.

"You have major projects like the redevelopment of Hunters Point Shipyard, the Stadium Mall, Third Street light rail, the continuation of development at Mission Bay, the UCSF campus, and Home Depot coming on board.

"We estimate on the low end about $1 billion worth of economic catalyst to occur within the next ten to 15 years in this low-income community.

"How do you really harness all of those opportunities for contracting, job creation, to really leverage in-hand service provision?

"So the big flip for the effort is really about not thinking about our social justice and social services programs, but really looking at it from a hardcore place-based strategy that focuses on people and places.

"And so we have four nodes throughout the Southeast sector that disproportionately have folks engaged in the juvenile justice system, the foster care system, and the family and child welfare system.

"With that data we found what we really needed to do in those particular areas to turn the tide in those particular neighborhoods.

"The effort really takes best practices from across the country. We've looked at the Children's Zone in New York, the Jacobs Foundation in San Diego, the Center for Working Families in Seattle, the Youth for Jobs in Boston.

"We've looked at these efforts and really tweaked them for San Francisco appropriateness to really bring about the level of change that needs to actually happen in this community."

Armed with that data, Jones delivered it to Baview residents - and it was the Bayview residents themselves who called the shots.

"It is governed by the residents themselves.

"They actually go through the process themselves of identifying the community organizations they want to run the services there for them.

"All of the flyering and the outreach was done exclusively by the residents themselves.

"They took a tremendous among of ownership to the point they have actually produced a DVD of their entire experience - from the identification of the building they wanted all the way to it being relocated by barge.

"They formed a Tenants Association which determined which strategies are going to be utilized for each of those respective quarters.

"They inform government in terms of the services they want for the quarter and we then go and identify organizations which can deliver those services.

"We then bring the potential services providers in front of them and they make the selection based on the presentations of those prospective community-based organizations.

"These folks have been here for quite some time and lack of successes were fresh in their minds. There was a greater government accountability system that exists because there was more of a peer-to-peer selection system.

"Within the first six months we saw crime drop by 25% in the neighborhood and employment increase by about 25%. We saw a significant decrease in truancy."

COO is one of the mayor's greatest prides, Newsom acknowledged.

"I wish that a lot of people at City Hall really understood what we're doing with Communities of Opportunity and had the an opportunity to experience something that is right and real, and that's making a real difference in people's lives," Mayor Newsom told the Sentinel.

"These are the kind of things that you just say 'wow' and you sit back and you're proud."




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