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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.

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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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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California Family Whose Beachfront Properties were Seized 100 years ago, Sells Land Back to County for $20 Million

In the 1920s, the beach resort was extremely popular with African American tourists. At that time, Black people were not permitted on white beaches. The site became famously known as “Bruce’s Beach.” The children and grandchildren of Charles and Willa Bruce fought for decades to get back the land.

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Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell commemorate the signing of State legislation to return the land to the closest living heirs of the Charles and Willa Bruce. Credit / County of Los Angeles.
Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell commemorate the signing of State legislation to return the land to the closest living heirs of the Charles and Willa Bruce. Credit / County of Los Angeles.

By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire

The great-grandchildren of the African American couple Willa and Charles Bruce, whose land in Southern California was taken in 1924 and returned to the family last year, have opted to sell it back to the local government for $20 million.

In the 1920s, the beach resort was extremely popular with African American tourists. At that time, Black people were not permitted on white beaches.

The site became famously known as “Bruce’s Beach.”

The children and grandchildren of Charles and Willa Bruce fought for decades to get back the land.

Chief Duane Yellow Feather Shepard, a family historian and spokesman for the Bruce family, stated in a 2021 interview, “It was a very significant location because there was nowhere else along the California coast where African Americans could go to enjoy the water.”

The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists often threatened the Bruce family, but they kept the resort open and took care of the land.

In 1924, the municipal council used eminent domain to take the land to build a park.

But, according to a TV show called “The Insider,” the area wasn’t used for many years.

Willa and Charles Bruce fought back in court, but their compensation was only $14,000. In recent years, local officials have estimated the property’s value to be as high as $75 million.

The area contains two coastal properties and is currently used for lifeguard training.

Janice Hahn, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, revealed that the family would sell the property back to the local government.

Hahn stated that the price was set through an appraisal.

Hahn stated, “This is what reparations look like, and it is a model I hope governments around the country would adopt.”

The statement made by Hahn may or may not be exactly what the Bruce family desired in addition to the restitution of their land.

In 2021, Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Willa and Charles Bruce, told The New York Times, “An apology would be the least they could do.”

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