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COMMENTARY: Ben Coleman was a local hero to many

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By Ken Foxworth

“I believe the first test of a truly great man is in his humanity and his integrity.”  — Dr. Frank Wilderson, University of Minnesota V.P.

It is rare when you hear African American males describe about another male using these words:  hero, honest, role model, mentor, integrity and most importantly, how he loved his community. One man spoken of in this way was named Ben Coleman; he passed away January 6, 2019.

People often think and talk about the negative things coming from Minneapolis North, but it is past time for us to talk about some of the good things. The first scholarship athlete at the University of Minnesota who graduated from North High School (aka Minneapolis North) was a football player named Richard Armstrong in 1976. The first basketball scholarship student-athlete from Minneapolis North was Ben Coleman.

One of Coleman’s greatest fans is Dr. Michael Favor, Football Hall of Fame All-American from North Dakota State University, former principal of Minneapolis North, and present principal of Southwest High School in Minneapolis. He said, “As an African American male growing up on the North Side, Ben Coleman was one of many of my heroes.

“Ben is and was a hero to me not only for his success at North High School, college, and in the pros. He was that hero that we could reach out to, so proud of his Minnesota roots and constantly giving back to so many,” Favor said.

Although my passion was football, I attended the Ben Coleman Basketball Camps because I wanted to be like Ben — a successful student athlete, an entrepreneur, and someone who was fully committed to giving back to the North Side community. I am truly thankful to have had Ben Coleman in my life. I offer my condolences to his family and friends and thank them for allowing Ben to be part of my life.

When Coleman came to the University of Minnesota in 1979-81, he was with some of the school’s greatest basketball players: Gary Cookie Holme, Mark Hall, Trent Tucker, Randy Brewers, Jim Peterson. His roommate Zebedee Howell was one of his closest friends on the team. Four of his teammates also played for the NBA.

Holme said, “Coleman was a great guy to be with on and off the court. His personality and his love for the game was always there. I was stunned that he always talked about North High School and how that was an important tool to go back and help his community.”

When Coleman transferred to the University of Maryland he did not know what to expect, but the fans and the coaches loved him. One of the sportswriters, Don Markus from The Baltimore Sun, wrote, “Had he spent four years at Maryland rather than just two, Ben Coleman’s name might appear on the school’s list of all-time scorers and rebounders. Instead he is in the record books as the player with the second-highest shooting percentage behind Buck Williams.

“Had Coleman spent his entire college career as a Terp [Terrapin] rather than transferring in as a junior following two seasons with his hometown Minnesota Gophers, Lefty Driesell might have won another ACC tournament title — maybe an NCAA title — with the 6’-9” forward’s help.

“As it was,” said Markus, “Driesell’s only ACC tournament championship in his 17 seasons came during Coleman’s senior year in 1983-84 when he and rising sophomore star Len Bias shared team-high scoring honors at 15.3 points. Coleman led the Terps in rebounding.”

“Ben was there for just two years, but he’s a true Terrapin,’ said former Maryland star Adrian Branch, who played three years with Coleman and later was a teammate of his and Williams with the New Jersey Nets.

It was incredible that Coleman was drafted in the 1984 second round for the Chicago Bulls while in the first round was one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan, who played for North Carolina. Coleman played European League Basketball as well as for the NBA Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, and the Detroit Pistons.

After his professional career was over, Coleman became involved in his community by teaching and showing others how to become entrepreneurs and philanthropists. He truly believed and practiced what the Bible says: “If you give a man a fish he will live for one day, but if you teach a man to fish he will live a lifetime.”

To the Honorable Ben Coleman, thank you for teaching us how to fish! You were truly, truly a great man with a great legacy indeed.

This article originally appeared in Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Arts and Culture

IN MEMORIAM: Autris Paige

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

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AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.
AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

August 17, 1938 – January 12, 2023

AUTRIS T. PAIGE was the youngest child born to Estella and Overton Paige in Sugar Land, Texas on Aug. 17, 1938.  He passed away on Jan. 12, 2023 in Oakland after a brief illness.  He was supported and comforted by his longtime companion Donna Vaughan.

Mr. Paige grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

He served in the U.S. Air Force.

In 1971, he made his debut with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, appearing in Candide at the Los Angeles Music Center and at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. He appeared with Ray Charles and the American Ballet Theatre and performed in several musical theatre productions on Broadway including Lost in the Stars; Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope; as Walter Lee in Raisin; and in Timbuktu with Eartha Kitt.

Mr. Paige has also sung with the New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and with the San Francisco Opera. Other opera companies in which he performed include the Seattle Opera and the Glyndebourne Opera in England. He was featured in the PBS film and award-winning EMI recording of Porgy and Bess as well as the recording of the opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

When he returned to Oakland to “retire” he met Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams, Founder and Director of Today’s Artists Concerts (now Four Seasons Arts), who auditioned Paige and invited him to perform on his series. Mr. Paige began a new phase of his musical career.

He appeared many times under the auspices of Today’s Artists Concerts/Four Seasons Arts in New York’s Alice Tully Hall and in venues around the Bay Area in their Art of the Spiritual programs. He was featured in his own Spiritual Journey in 2009. His recently released solo CD, Spiritual Journey, based on this program, has received critical acclaim.

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

In 2011, Mr. Paige was featured in Four Seasons Arts’ annual W. Hazaiah Williams Memorial Concert with the Lucy Kinchen Chorale and later with soprano Alison Buchanan. In 2013, he performed his Spiritual Journey II in Berkeley with pianist Othello Jefferson. A second CD entitled Classics and Spirituals was released in September 2013. Pianist Jerry Donaldson of Oakland was a frequent collaborator with Mr. Paige, performing throughout the Bay Area.

A Celebration of Life for Autris Paige will take place Friday, Feb. 3 at 11:00 a.m. at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, 1399 McAllister Street, San Francisco.

A repast will follow the service.

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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