How I See San Francisco: Ken Henderson of the Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation
Ken Henderson is the executive director/CEO of the Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation (REAF), a San Francisco-based organization providing HIV services, hunger programs and support for homeless and disenfranchised youth. Driving awareness that the AIDS epidemic is not yet over, REAF produces a full calendar of fundraising events and benefit concerts annually, including "Help is on the Way: San Francisco Cares," a series of one-night-only cabaret shows, and the burlesque-style strip show, "Broadway Bares: San Francisco Strips."
For its longstanding contributions to the community, REAF has been recognized as a 2019 Heritage of Pride/Pride Community Award honoree by SF Pride. Here, Ken shares some thoughts with us on Pride, service, and San Francisco.
What are your thoughts on this year’s SF Pride theme, "Generations of Resistance"?
The LGBTQ community has a long history of resistance against oppression and fighting for equality. In today’s political environment, there is a sense that many of the rights we’ve fought so hard for are once again in jeopardy. It’s important that we continue to come together to resist all those that seek to strip our community of those rights and of opportunities we have fought so hard to attain.
What should we expect from this year’s Pride Celebration?
I think this will be a great year of both celebrating our history, showing our determination to resist all efforts to strip us of our hard-earned protections, and a joyful celebration of our uniqueness and individuality.
How should a new visitor best experience Pride weekend?
There will be a lot going on over Pride weekend, with something for just about every preference and taste. Of course, the Pride Festival in Civic Center will take place both Saturday and Sunday, and the parade on Sunday down Market St. should not be missed. A good place to look for LGBTQ events is the online calendar OurTownSF.org.
The Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation has been recognized as a leading service provider for the LGBTQ community. What has it been like doing this important work in San Francisco?
REAF is a unique agency, in that we raise funds for other direct service service provider agencies through the production of quality entertainment events. By partnering with other agencies as beneficiaries, we reach a broad cross section of the community. While our core audience usually comes from the LGBTQ community, most of our concerts and shows are designed to appeal to anyone who appreciates quality, Broadway-style entertainment. We always have a list of upcoming events on our website.
How can a visitor to San Francisco interested in LGBTQ community service get involved?
Almost all non-profits need volunteers to help fulfill their mission. If someone has time to help deliver meals for a local food program, that's a quick and easy way to do some good. As an event producing agency, we are always looking for volunteers to help out with setting up and staffing our benefits. Of course, all non-profits need funding, so if you don’t have time to volunteer, you can always make a donation.
San Francisco is known as a welcoming destination. How do you see this in your everyday?
San Francisco is a diverse community made up of many ethnicities, interests, and religious beliefs—but when it comes down to it, we are one community that welcomes and accepts others to come and celebrate their differences.
Is there a great place other than Pride to see San Francisco's welcoming spirit in action?
I’d encourage visitors to get out and explore the many diverse neighborhoods that make up this city. Of course, the Castro is well known for LGBTQ visitors, but the entire city is really LGBTQ-welcoming. If you want to interact with locals and get a real flavor of this city, you need to get out into the neighborhoods.
What's coming soon from REAF that we should put on our calendars?
We have some great events coming up. This year, REAF is celebrating our 25th anniversary. Our biggest annual Broadway-style concert and gala, “Help Is on the Way XXV: Celebrating Broadway,” is slated for Sunday, Aug. 18th at the historic Herbst Theatre and will feature Tony Award-winning stars. In September, we’re working on a special, one-night-only benefit cabaret show with the cast of "Hamilton", where performers will sing entirely different songs than the ones they sing on stage every night.
Is there a new LGBTQ-oriented attraction or event that you’re excited about?
One place I like that offers a variety of entertainment options is Oasis at 11th and Folsom streets. They offer everything from cabaret to drag shows, theatrical events and dance parties. Sunday Funday in the Castro is always a great way to spend an afternoon barhopping. But don’t wait for the weekends to get out and about. While many bars and restaurants can be hard to get into on weekends, most have great availability on weeknights.
Besides SF Pride, what's your favorite annual event in the city?
Well, I’d have to give another plug to our big annual summer “Help Is on the Way” gala as one of the biggest and highest-quality benefit concerts, as well as our annual “Help Is on the Way for the Holidays” in December. Another personal favorite of mine is the Santa Skivvies Run, produced by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Bay to Breakers is also always great fun.
Any favorite to-do’s among the city’s more traditional arts and culture scene?
There are so many great museums and cultural things to do here. SFMOMA is fabulous, as is the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. I also highly recommend the many neighborhood street festivals that take place throughout the summer.
Do you have a favorite excursion out of the city to recommend?
One of my favorite getaways is to Guerneville on the Russian River. That's always been a wonderful and welcoming place for LGBTQ visitors. Napa and Sonoma are also beautiful places to get away and experience wine country. If you can visit those places on weekdays, you'll avoid the traffic, which can get very backed up on weekends.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in the city to recommend?
What's one item still on your San Francisco bucket list?
Well, I’m still very interested in visiting the top of Salesforce Tower and seeing the view from that high up.
Any last advice for visitors to San Francisco?
Get out and explore our beautiful city. Traffic can be frustrating and intimidating, but get out and walk. Take buses or taxis or other kinds of transportation where you don’t have to drive and search for parking. Go beyond the usual tourist areas and see all the neighborhoods that truly make San Francisco such a great place.