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Groundbreaking for West Oakland 100%-Affordable Housing Complex

Seventh Street, called the “Harlem of the West” back in the day, was where Black business and cultural life thrived, resounding in the sounds of Billie Holiday and B. B. King and Al Green, who might play at Slim Jenkins Supper Club or some other spot there, like Esther’s Orbit Room, owned by the beautiful Esther Mabry. Seventh Street was where there had been a Black bank and pharmacy and movie theater—the Lincoln Theatre—most in the very same block as the new development. Appropriately, the groundbreaking revealed the new housing complex would be named “The Black Panther.”

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Development Headed by Former Black Panther Leader Elaine Brown

Special to the Post

Everyone gathered last Friday morning at the groundbreaking at 7th and Campbell in West Oakland for the 100% affordable housing development there seemed to recognize the historic nature of the moment.  Introduced by program host Regina Jackson, former president of the Oakland Police Commission, here was this former Panther leader, Elaine Brown, come home to build something where the Panthers started.

Brown immediately thanked Vince Bennett, President and CEO of her nonprofit’s co-developer McCormack Baron Salazar (MBS), a billion-dollar housing developer out of St. Louis, for coming to her rescue by bringing the power of its name and expertise to the development when it was floundering.  And, to the surprise of some, she thanked former Mayor Jean Quan, who seemed filled with pride, for courageously working hard to get the City to capitulate and let her nonprofit, Oakland & the World Enterprises (OAW), build on and eventually purchase this 30-year-blighted and vacant three-quarter acre property for one dollar.

Brown went on to remind everyone that it was in that very block of Seventh Street where, back in 1967, Huey P. Newton was involved in a confrontation with white Oakland police officers that ended with Huey being wounded and one of the cops being killed, triggering the “Free Huey” Movement and the explosive growth of the Black Panther Party nationwide.

Seventh Street, called the “Harlem of the West” back in the day, was where Black business and cultural life thrived, resounding in the sounds of Billie Holiday and B. B. King and Al Green, who might play at Slim Jenkins Supper Club or some other spot there, like Esther’s Orbit Room, owned by the beautiful Esther Mabry.  Seventh Street was where there had been a Black bank and pharmacy and movie theater—the Lincoln Theatre—most in the very same block as the new development.  Appropriately, the groundbreaking revealed the new housing complex would be named “The Black Panther.”

The Governor’s office came out, sending the message, via his surrogate, Sasha Wisotsky Kergan, Deputy Secretary for Housing at the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, that this was the first project to break ground funded by the Governor’s Housing Accelerator program and how proud the Governor was that the program’s $43 Million award to 7th & Campbell would push this important project over the line to construction.  And, there was Jennifer Seeger, Deputy Director of State Financial Assistance Programs, speaking on behalf of State Housing and Community Development Director Gustavo Velasquez, who stated, “The 7th & Campbell project is going to completely revitalize this neighborhood.”

And other government representatives came echoing these sentiments, including in messages from the offices of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Supervisor Keith Carson and County Assessor Phong La, as in the speeches of Assemblymember Mia Bonta and County Treasurer Hank Levy and Mayor Libby Schaaf, applauded by Betsy Lake, Deputy City Administrator, and Kelly Kahn, from the City’s Economic and Workforce Development Department, including Christia Mulvey of Oakland’s Housing and Community Development Department—and most of the members of the Oakland City Council.

All seemed to understand that, in this economic desert, this food desert, this former “Harlem of the West,” decimated by racist government practices and policies in the building of the massive Seventh Street Post Office, the overhead BART train, the freeway connector that is now the 980 and racist federal, state and local government and bank housing practices that displaced thousands of Black families who had built Seventh Street into a street of dreams, along with FBI assaults that took down the Black Panthers, something big was being resurrected.

Brown called it the spirit of Seventh Street.  Some called it the Spirit of the Panther.

Adhi Nagraj, Chief Development Officer of MBS, spoke about how the $80 Million+ project was a model project, and that MBS intended to work with OAW to replicate that model elsewhere in the Bay, as, in California and, indeed, in blighted, abandoned Black urban neighborhoods throughout the U.S.  They were installing there, he said, not only 79 units of 100% affordable housing but also four, OAW-sponsored cooperatively-owned businesses, including a fitness center, a clothing manufacturing and sales space, a restaurant and a neighborhood market.

Other Project Team members echoed his sentiment about what a model this project projected, including Contractor John Branagh, Branagh Construction; Architect Carlton Smith, MWA Architects; Ali Kashani, Project Manager; Michael Baines, CEO, the Baines Group, construction consultant; Black woman-owned glass contractor Shaune Gbana of All Bay Area Glass; Donald Frazier, CEO of BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency), which will provide supportive services to residents.

And, BART Board Director, Lateefah Simon, representing the 7th District, sent a message that she was committed to eliminating the noise pollution of the overhead train that had drowned out the sounds of Seventh Street, its grinding wheels screeching overhead every 10 minutes or so, heading into the tunnel to San Francisco’s financial district.

Soon, all realized this was no ordinary groundbreaking.  After Brown introduced her OAW Board members, including Mark Alexander, Deborah Matthews, James Nixon and Wendel Rosen Attorney Zack Wasserman, along with Advisory Board members Gordon Baranco, Chris Perryman and Tyson Amir, she introduced the tenacious Moms 4 Housing Misty Cross and Tolani King.

Cross and King applauded the project as realizing the dream they sought in 2019 on Magnolia Street for which they were overwhelmed by an OPD tank and police in combat boots carrying assault rifles and arrested—and still didn’t get that house on Magnolia or any other, despite everything.

Then Brown brought up two of the Bay Area Black mothers whose sons had been murdered by local police: Wanda Johnson (Mother of Oscar Grant, killed by BART police, 2009) and Gwen Woods (Mother of Mario Woods, killed by SFPD, 2015).  They praised the project, as it offered housing to the least of these, very low and extremely low income people, including formerly incarcerated people, noting the nexus between denial of housing to formerly incarcerated Blacks and police murders of Blacks.

Then came the moment that seemed to bring out all the tears, though many tears were shed throughout the two-hour program.  Ron Leggett, a first generation Urban Native American, born and raised in Lisan Ohlone territory of Huichin, now called Oakland, introduced Native singer Manny Lieras.  Manny explained that he was a Navajo but had the permission of Ohlone to bless the land and the project, and, with his drum as accompaniment, went on to sing a most powerful and haunting song of his people, giving permission to build on the land.

It was then Elaine called forth all the former Panthers there, including Ericka Huggins, Clark Bailey, Donna Howell, Flores Forbes, Carol Granison, Carol Rucker, James Mott (now Saturo Ned), Mark Alexander, Asali Dixon, along with Panther offspring Ericka Abram (Elaine’s daughter), Gregory Lewis and David Lautaro Newton, son of Melvin Newton—who then spoke about his brother Huey, founder of the Black Panther Party, who challenged the very foundation of the System with his life right there on Seventh Street.

All of them gathered around an architect’s rendering of the site, as it was revealed the name of the building would be “The Black Panther.”

The Project Team then donned hard hats and grabbed golden shovels and, symbolically, dug up shovels of dirt from a 16-foot rectangular wooden box and effected the groundbreaking.

Immediately after, Cathy Adams, CEO of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, closed the program with a message of solidarity for all the businesses the project is set to generate.  Then, the sultry and painful sounds of the blues shot through the air, drowning out the noise of the BART train, played by the West Coast Blues Society, headed by Ronnie Stewart, lifting up the songs in the way they used to play them right there on Seventh Street, back in the day.

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Oakland Post: Week of May 15 – 21, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of May May 15 – 21, 2024

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Oakland Post: Week of May 8 – 14, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of May May 8 – 14, 2024

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S.F. Black Leaders Rally to Protest, Discuss ‘Epidemic’ of Racial Slurs Against Black Students in SF Public School System

Parents at the meeting spoke of their children as no longer feeling safe in school because of bullying and discrimination. Parents also said that reported incidents such as racial slurs and intimidation are not dealt with to their satisfaction and feel ignored. 

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Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church. Photo courtesy Third Baptist Church.
Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church. Photo courtesy Third Baptist Church.

By Carla Thomas

San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church hosted a rally and meeting Sunday to discuss hatred toward African American students of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD).

Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church, along with leadership from local civil rights groups, the city’s faith-based community and Black community leadership convened at the church.

“There has been an epidemic of racial slurs and mistreatment of Black children in our public schools in the city,” said Brown. “This will not be tolerated.”

According to civil rights advocate Mattie Scott, students from elementary to high school have reported an extraordinary amount of racial slurs directed at them.

“There is a surge of overt racism in the schools, and our children should not be subjected to this,” said Scott. “Students are in school to learn, develop, and grow, not be hated on,” said Scott. “The parents of the children feel they have not received the support necessary to protect their children.”

Attendees were briefed last Friday in a meeting with SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne.

SFUSD states that their policies protect children and they are not at liberty to publicly discuss the issues to protect the children’s privacy.

Parents at the meeting spoke of their children as no longer feeling safe in school because of bullying and discrimination. Parents also said that reported incidents such as racial slurs and intimidation are not dealt with to their satisfaction and feel ignored.

Some parents said they have removed their students from school while other parents and community leaders called on the removal of the SFUSD superintendent, the firing of certain school principals and the need for more supportive school board members.

Community advocates discussed boycotting the schools and creating Freedom Schools led by Black leaders and educators, reassuring parents that their child’s wellbeing and education are the highest priority and youth are not to be disrupted by racism or policies that don’t support them.

Virginia Marshall, chair of the San Francisco NAACP’s education committee, offered encouragement to the parents and students in attendance while also announcing an upcoming May 14 school board meeting to demand accountability over their mistreatment.

“I’m urging anyone that cares about our students to pack the May 14 school board meeting,” said Marshall.

This resource was supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library via California Black Media as part of the Stop the Hate Program. The program is supported by partnership with California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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