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Your weekend: All Together Now fundraiser is Friday

Submitted by on 1, November 11, 2010 – 8:36 amNo Comment

By Heather Lyn Wood

Drew Harrison’s first memory is of himself at age three, “rocking back and forth on my hands and knees, in front of our Motorola stereo, to the song ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’”

Forty some years after that performance, Harrison is still singing the Beatles, albeit to a larger audience. He now performs the music of John Lennon as a member of the Sun Kings, a popular Beatles tribute band based in Alameda. The internationally recognized group interprets and performs more than 100 Beatles songs at clubs, theaters, outdoor festivals and private events throughout the Bay Area.

On Friday, November 12, Harrison will take the stage with a singular purpose: to help the Alameda Education Foundation raise money for Alameda’s public schools. Harrison and his band mates will be the featured act at All Together Now, the Alameda Education Foundation’s 2010 fall fundraiser.

Harrison and fellow Alamedan Peter Fletcher created the concert to generate revenue for school programs impacted by the state budget crisis. That neither Harrison nor Fletcher currently has children in the Alameda school system is, to them, beside the point.

“We live here. This is our community,” Harrison, who attributes some of his success to the arts education he received in Pleasanton, said in an interview. “I may not have kids, but I was a kid. I enjoyed arts, music and drama. I want all kids to have those opportunities.”

Fletcher, a real estate agent who also works as a DJ, will open the event with his specialty collection of LPs from the 1950s and 60s. Dancing will begin at 7:30 p.m., with interactive encouragement from members of Alameda’s DANCE/10 studio. Raffle prizes include an Apple iPad, two tickets to Cirque du Soleil at The Mirage in Las Vegas, and a gift basket filled with food and wine from local restaurateurs.

When the Measure E parcel tax failed in June, the two friends decided that it was time to stop talking and start funding the school programs at risk of disappearing. Harrison mentioned the idea of a benefit concert, and Fletcher immediately got on board. The two don’t dwell on the causes of the current state school funding crisis, though they cite both Proposition 13 and “unrealistic voter expectations” as possible factors. The bottom line, said Fletcher, is that “every district is cutting, cutting, cutting, and the time for ‘either/or’ options has come to a close. We just need to get together and try to save these programs.”

Harrison and Fletcher contacted Bill Sonneman, president of the Alameda Education Foundation’s board, and offered to headline the upcoming fundraiser. Sonneman agreed, and the three collaborated with other concerned citizens and corporate sponsors to make it happen.

Harrison said there’s no time to waste in making sure that “elective” programs like art, music and team sports remain in public schools, and he is serious about why. “We didn’t arrive in Enlightenment society because we made computer cables,” he said emphatically. “We got here because we learned how to think, how to become thoughtful, sensitive people. When schools start cutting the programs that teach people how to think and be creative, you have problems as a nation. It might sound exaggerated, but when you lose that ability to think critically, you have a national security issue.”

Harrison applauded other Bay Area communities that have succeeded in raising money to supplement public education. He pointed to the Peninsula city of Belmont, whose School-Force Foundation has raised $2.6 million over the past nine years to preserve music education. He wants the same result for the art, music, drama, sports, science, and technology enrichment championed by AEF.

Fletcher realizes that Alameda has work to do, but is hopeful that events like All Together Now will mitigate the impact of the current budget cuts. “Financially this is a drop in the bucket. It won’t keep the schools open. But it might keep a horn, a guitar or a piece of construction paper in a kid’s hand,” he said.

His and Harrison’s long-range vision is that at least 10,000 of Alameda’s 75,000 residents will each donate $5 per year to supplement the Alameda Unified School District. In Harrison’s mind, this would address children’s education needs without placing the economic burden on just one segment of the community. “We don’t want a lot from a few people,” he explained. “We need a little bit from a lot of people.”

Harrison and Fletcher believe that the programs support by AEF are crucial components of a well-rounded education, and they see local events like All Together Now as a small but powerful tool in the fight to save them. The two musicians hope that this year’s gala will blossom into an annual celebration of not only music, but community. At the very least, they see it as much more than a performance.

“This is really about awareness,” Fletcher explained. “It’s a way to come together and do something. We may not all agree on a parcel tax, but we can all agree to help our kids.”

Harrison, obviously moved by the community effort, agrees. “This is the start of something beautiful,” he promised.

All Together Now starts at 6 p.m. Friday at the Auctions by the Bay Theater, 2700 Saratoga Street, at Alameda Point. Tickets are $40, and are available online. For more information, visit the Alameda Education Foundation website.

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