“Sing Together as a Community”

by Rev. Norman Fong

July 22, 2019

norman fong

Last week, I went to a housing conference and met with 60 other Executive Directors from across the country. All of them build housing too like Chinatown CDC. At the end of the event, I was asked to speak and share my thoughts about the conference. A lot of people were feeling down because of recent attacks on immigrants, immigrant rights and racial exclusion and tensions. I know I always feel better when I sing and especially with others, so I used the theme (or metaphor): “Helping our Communities to Sing” – that’s our job. Let me explain why I chose that theme. I said “something wonderful happened to me last night that I want to share with all of you.”

Last night after our meetings, my friend (Alex from NeighborWorks) invited me to go visit places that he liked to hang out in his hometown, Los Angeles. He took me to a night club with live band music because he knew I played for a Chinatown band for over 50 years. This year he saw us play at the Chinese New Year Street Fair. As we walked in, the night club band played a song that I grew up listening to in Chinatown! Not only that, a song I also sing with my band! We sat at the first table closest to the band and they kept playing these songs I knew and I started singing along from our table.

I think the guitar player saw and heard me singing, so later, he invited me to come up to sing a couple of songs with his band! He said, “do I know The Temptations songs?” I said, “Yes, we play them in Chinatown San Francisco too.” He said, “come and sing with our band right now!” Wow! I felt so honored to be included because they didn’t even know me. My friend and I were probably the only Asians in the club! It felt so good to sing with another band and more importantly - to feel welcomed.

As I thought about our work as a Community Development Corporation (CDC) in not just Chinatown but throughout the City, it hit me that one of our missions in life is to get our communities’ VOICES out. As Chinatown CDC grows, we are helping New Voices to be heard. In our long history as Chinatown CDC, I am so proud of the seniors, SRO Families and youth whose voices are heard by our City's public officials. It’s important for all of us to “SING” so our voices will be heard, and we must include more “singers” and new voices (like a giant choir) so that our voices collectively will be louder.

sfmta director ed reiskin cta

Last Sunday (July 14), the SFMTA Director Ed Reskin, SFMTA Commissioner Tom Nolan and Supervisor Aaron Peskin came to visit with the Community Tenants Association (CTA). CTA wanted to thank Reskin for helping Chinatown on programs like “Free MUNI” for low-income seniors… and supporting the creation of the Central Subway to Chinatown. Ed Reskin said the reverse, No, THANK YOU CTA FOR BEING A HUGE VOICE FOR CHINATOWN! He said it’s easier to get things done for the city when the community raises its VOICE together. I reminded all 600 CTA members there that since SUPER SUNDAY began decades ago – they have increased the Voice of Chinatown in this city. CTA has faithfully grown in numbers but more importantly they have been singing out loud for the community faithfully every month. I also love it when CTA actually sings together every month and even has a dance group.

cta community tenants association

cta community tenants association

Recently, our voices were heard clearly by Mayor London Breed and President Norman Yee as CTA has been advocating for the $600 million housing bond to include more SENIOR HOUSING that seniors can only afford with more subsidies (Senior Operating Subsidies).

On a personal note, I believe we were all born to sing. When my son was born, early on, he began making what I thought were strange noises like “Ah bah bah…” Then my wife told me – that’s not noise – he’s SINGING… We are all born to sing out but sometimes people aren’t invited to “join the choir”… or party or conversation. When you do get invited to join the choir or like for me – the band – it is a wonderful feeling. SING EVERYBODY! SING TOGETHER united as a community.

Note: Chinatown CDC will be honoring some new Voices at our 42nd Anniversary Gala on October 11, 2019. At Tenderloin Family Housing, we want to celebrate the Arab families there who have really sung out loud, jumpstarting the first Iftar Ramadan celebration inside City Hall. We also are celebrating our partnership with Swords to Plowshares to build housing and serve homeless veterans. Our Chinatown CDC choir is singing out loud, embracing the diversity of our City. On top of that, we’ll be celebrating Chinatown Arts, Culture and Music as Jest Jammin’ celebrates 51 years of serving the community! Maybe we can get everyone to sing there!

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on July 21, 2019

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