Mills College in Oakland was the only college located outside the Midwest I applied to, so naturally I chose it above all others. I left my hometown of Minneapolis in 1996 at the age of seventeen, arriving to pursue my degree and the ultimate education: living in the Bay Area. During those four years I interned with the Harvey Milk Institute on Castro Street under the guidance of the organization’s executive director, Kevin Schaub.
One July afternoon while we were out for a smoke on the steps, Kevin pointed out a mural of Harvey Milk I hadn’t noticed before, though it was directly across the street from our office. The portrait (by Josef Norris, 1998) is partially shadowed by a luscious tree. It is as though Harvey is looking down on the shop, bemused, checking in on business. The mural also includes Milk’s message, You’ve gotta give ‘em hope! “That was Harvey’s camera shop right down there,” Kevin told me, pointing to the storefront below. Less than a week later I finished reading the biography of Harvey Milk in tears on the 22.
The following spring on Easter Sunday morning, my interning duties led me to a street fair hosted by HMI and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I arrived thinking I’d be manning the HMI booth, but first Kevin tasked me with providing general support to the Sisters in their dressing room. All morning I mixed cocktails, zipped dresses, pinned hats, buckled shoes, and fetched accessories. I was harshly, and quite fairly, admonished by several Sisters after I mistakenly referred to one as a “he” – even though the Sister in question was dressed as the Pope. “We’re all ‘she’ when we’re in drag, honey.” They were gossipy and bossy, and I was becoming increasingly cranky from the task of perpetually indulging the Sisters rather than the other way around. But after all the fuss was over, each Sister emerged quite suddenly, full of grace, into the sunshine, beautiful with their painted faces, hats adorned with butterflies and silk roses, and delighted the gathering crowds the way they do.
I returned to Minneapolis in 2000 and stayed for years. I visited the Bay Area a couple of times a year, and missed it dearly. But there in Minneapolis, a wintry city of fortitude, I fell in love, got married, went back to school, learned how to cook, sang in a band, gardened, made lifelong friends, loved my work.
And still, after all that, when the opportunity arose to move back to the Bay Area, the answer was yes.
Rediscovering the city now is resonating. One can never be nineteen again, so it must be the city itself, ringing.
Today I pursue the education in experience that is doing research with ISKME, and living here in the deep of the Mission.
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