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IN MEMORIAM: Oakland’s Own Bill Russell, 88, Greatest Athlete/Civil Rights Activist Ever (Part 1)

NNPA NEWSWIRE — William Felton Russell was born on Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, La., and his family moved to West Oakland in 1942 when he was 8. His father found work on the waterfront and in the Bay Area shipyards in the middle of World War II. They instilled in him a history of racial and family pride that helped him survive in a racially discriminatory Boston environment while playing for the Boston Celtics.

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As the first-ranked and highest respected Black sportsman, Bill Russell used his status to lead the nation’s leading Black athletes which included Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and many others to support Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War.
As the first-ranked and highest respected Black sportsman, Bill Russell used his status to lead the nation’s leading Black athletes which included Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and many others to support Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War.

By Paul Cobb, Post News Group Publisher

Bill Russell, the center of attention in professional basketball, died at 88 after becoming the most decorated athlete in all of the team sports in the United States.

The star of the Boston Celtics from 1956-1969, he changed the way basketball was played by applying his rare combination of basketball and track and field athleticism to fashion a defense-centered dominance. In a sport where one’s ability to score points was prized, he reversed the focus by making defensive thinking to prevent others from scoring.

He died on July 31, after more than 70 years of basketball and civil rights activism.

William Felton Russell was born on Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, La., and his family moved to West Oakland in 1942 when he was 8. His father found work on the waterfront and in the Bay Area shipyards in the middle of World War II. They instilled in him a history of racial and family pride that helped him survive in a racially discriminatory Boston environment while playing for the Boston Celtics.

In his early years his home was only three blocks east from Ron Dellums, Oakland’s first Black congressman, and just three blocks west from Frank Robinson, Oakland’s first Black Major League Baseball coach.

While living near Ninth and Center streets, he learned early on that one must fight for honor, dignity, and respect by never backing down from any challenge whether through fisticuffs or verbal slights.

He was mentored at Defremery Park and Recreation Center by the late Dorothy Seale Pitts and George Scotlan along with Bill Patterson, who now serves as an EBMUD Director, to stay centered on what mattered.

Even though he pioneered greatness as an athlete and as a scholar/athlete/civil rights activist who fought to achieve dignity and respect for African Americans, his path to recognition and honor was not easy because was not considered good enough to crack the starting five basketball Warriors lineup at McClymonds High School in West Oakland.

He never stopped trying and practicing with his teammates who were better shooters and scorers. But, at 6-foot 10 inches, he was taller and could jump higher and played defense above the rim. He even became the Warriors’ mascot who created a stunning nimble artistic dance routine as the team’s mascot.

(His achievements attracted many who sought to follow in his footsteps with stylized dance routines that were featured during halftime breaks.)

His mother died when he was 12, never seeing Bill win two state prep titles and two national college crowns at the University of San Francisco after being ignored by many colleges because he was Black.

He was a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and captain of the 1956 U.S. Gold Medal team at the Melbourne Olympics. He drastically altered defensive play by excelling in rebounding, shot-blocking, and passing to ignite a fast-paced style of play.

He won eight consecutive NBA titles from 1959-1966. As a player-coach in his final three seasons, Russell was the first Black coach in North American sports and the first to win a title, doing so in 1968 and again in his 1969 farewell campaign.

He was the first Black player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by Barack Obama, America’s first Black president, for his civil rights and basketball achievements.

Russell was first among Oakland’s and the country’s athletic achievers. His USF team was the first major college to start three Black players. His Celtics team was the first to start five Black players. He was the first to become a player-coach. And he was the first player-coach to win an NBA title. He was first to be invited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at the 1963 March on Washington. He was the first athlete to utilize his celebrity by traveling to Mississippi to use sports to bring racial healing after the KKK killed NAACP leader Medgar Evers.

As the first-ranked and highest respected Black sportsman, he used his status to lead the nation’s leading Black athletes which included Jim Brown, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and many others to support Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War.

He always remembered his friends and mentors here in Oakland. Whenever he traveled to Oakland, he would often check in with Maxine Willis Ussery and reminisce about the days when his family would visit her family’s cleaning establishment.

She said he was protective of her and wanted to meet and give his approval to any of her dates and he insisted that he go to dinner with her and fiance Wilfred Ussery to give his approval. Maxine is now the office manager at the Post News Group (Oakland Post).

He paid one of his highest compliments to Bill Patterson for guiding and counseling him since his high school days. He said Patterson helped him understand that he must never allow himself to be a victim. He was proud of Coach Ben Tapscott, the McClymonds’ basketball coach, who not only continued to maintain the school’s tradition as the winningest high school in the country with an emphasis on academic achievements.

He invited Tapscott to share the glory with him when he was inducted and honored by the University of San Francisco.

In an interview with Russell and former WNBA Coach Nancy Lieberman, just months before his passing, he was making plans to donate a jointly signed basketball to salute the achievement of Oakland’s African American Sports and Entertainment Group for purchasing the Oakland Coliseum.

Bill Patterson, Geoffrey Pete, Ben Tapscott, Joe Ellis, Jumoke Hinton, Rev. Gerald Agee, Ray Bobbitt, Arif Khatib, Virtual Murrell, Gary Reeves, Nancy Lieberman, Jonathan Jones, Al Attles, Jr. and many others have asked The Post to put them on the task force to gather the list and honor the Bay Area’s historic cavalcade of Athlete/Activists who also became “firsts” in their respective sports. For those who want to volunteer to be included, please contact Maxine Ussery @510-287-8200 or mussery@postnewsgroup.com.

“We must find a way to honor our highest achievers,” said Bill Patterson and Ben Tapscott

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Activism

Oakland Post: Week of June 12-18, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of June 12-18, 2024

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ICAC Invites Community to Benefit from Safe Car Park Program

The Interfaith Council of Alameda County (ICAC) will hold a meeting to announce a faith-based expansion of overnight safe car parking for unhoused families on Thursday, June 13, 2024, from 1-2 p.m. at Williams Chapel Baptist Church located at 1410 10th Avenue in Oakland. The ICAC President, Rev. Ken Chambers, announced that Williams Chapel, pastored by Rev. Kenneth Anderson, and members of ICAC, has also planned to open an overnight safe car parking program and day center to provide unhoused neighbors and families with wrap-around services.

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Chambers said, "ICAC's goal is to just serve Oakland by helping to make the community surrounding 10th Avenue and International Boulevard both welcoming and safe."
Chambers said, "ICAC's goal is to just serve Oakland by helping to make the community surrounding 10th Avenue and International Boulevard both welcoming and safe."

by Post Staff

The Interfaith Council of Alameda County (ICAC) will hold a meeting to announce a faith-based expansion of overnight safe car parking for unhoused families on Thursday, June 13, 2024, from 1-2 p.m. at Williams Chapel Baptist Church located at 1410 10th Avenue in Oakland.

The ICAC President, Rev. Ken Chambers, announced that Williams Chapel, pastored by Rev. Kenneth Anderson, and members of ICAC, has also planned to open an overnight safe car parking program and day center to provide unhoused neighbors and families with wrap-around services.

Rev. Chambers said additional support for the program will also come from Bishop Bob Jackson, Pastor of Acts Full Gospel Church and Pastor Phyllis Scott, head of the Oakland Police Chaplaincy Program.

Chambers said, “ICAC’s goal is to just serve Oakland by helping to make the community surrounding 10th Avenue and International Boulevard both welcoming and safe.”

David Longhurst, a member of Oakland Temple LDS Church and an ICAC board member, said

“We can make the city of Oakland safer, one block at a time, by connecting our community and neighbors.”

Chambers said ICAC has a $450,000 grant commitment from the City of Oakland and a $2.5M grant request has been presented to Nate Miley, President of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Nate Miley to cover and expand ICAC’s Safe Car Park Program located at West Side Missionary Baptist Church to additional locations including Center Street Baptist Church, Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, Corinthians Baptist Church, Allen Temple Baptist Church, Acts Full Gospel Church, and other congregations.

Dr. Ken Chambers said he and ICAC are assisting congregations on how to receive a one-time $5,000 grant. “ICAC has plans for several tiny homes with kitchens, living space and bathrooms that we hope will become available this fall in partnership with the State, County and City of Oakland.”

Chambers is appealing to the public to help with transitioning the unhoused populations into tiny homes or affordable housing. “If you or anyone you know is living out of a car and needs a safe place to park overnight, visit interfaithAC.org, call 510-239-6681, or stop by the ICAC hub at 732 Willow Street, Oakland, CA 94607 between the hours of 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.”

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Calif. Leaders Discuss Foster Care Reform Strategies for Black and Brown Youth

Before becoming a nationally recognized social justice leader and a member of California’s Mandated Reporting Taskforce, Shane Harris spent 13 years as a foster care youth after he lost both of his parents. As President of the national civil rights organization, People’s Association of Justice Advocates (PAJA), he’s aiming to solve some of the toughest challenges Black and Brown children in the foster care system face.

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Shane Harris, PAJA President and member of the California Mandated Reporting Taskforce (center) with Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor on Homelessness to Governor Gavin Newsom and Dr. Janet Kelly, Founder & Director of Sanctuary of Hope LA (far right) (Lila Brown CBM)
Shane Harris, PAJA President and member of the California Mandated Reporting Taskforce (center) with Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor on Homelessness to Governor Gavin Newsom and Dr. Janet Kelly, Founder & Director of Sanctuary of Hope LA (far right) (Lila Brown CBM)

By Lila Brown, California Black Media  

 Before becoming a nationally recognized social justice leader and a member of California’s Mandated Reporting Taskforce, Shane Harris spent 13 years as a foster care youth after he lost both of his parents. As President of the national civil rights organization, People’s Association of Justice Advocates (PAJA), he’s aiming to solve some of the toughest challenges Black and Brown children in the foster care system face.

During National Foster Care Month in May, Harris visited the Sanctuary of Hope in Los Angeles to host a roundtable meeting with current and former foster youth, many of whom, like Harris, have beat the odds and become successful professionals.

According to the federal government’s Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, there are nearly 370,000 American children and youth in foster care.

Nationally, Black children are overrepresented in foster care. According to datacenter.kidscount.org, Black children represented 14% of the total child population in the United States. However, they represented 23% of all children in foster care. Harris pointed out that one out of every four foster youth go homeless upon exiting foster care in California. Across the state, there are nearly 65,000 children in foster care, he added. Of the 65,000 children in foster care across California, 14,000 of them are Black American.

Harris also announced a new effort already underway to push for the removal of the term “case” in L.A. County when referring to foster youth during the roundtable which featured Hafsa Kaka, Senior Advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Janet Kelly, the Founder and Director of Sanctuary of Hope. The session focused on solving problems foster youth face.

Sharing personal stories, insights, and various visions for policy changes, the participants discussed numerous solutions and addressed specific concerns about ongoing challenges with the foster care system.

One top priority was how to close the foster care to homelessness pipeline for the disproportionate number of Black and Brown children in LA County’s and the state’s foster care system.

“When you see the direct connection between the disproportionate rates of Black children in foster care and the disproportionate rates of Black people in the general homeless population, there is a very clear connection there in which our foster youth are coming out of care,” stated Harris during opening remarks.

Kaka said the governor has been intentional about making sure that foster children are homeless prioritized as the state addresses homelessness.

“This is a critical moment for foster care,” said Kaka. “The systems that are working together are looking at leveraging federal, state and local funds.”

Harris said he has already begun efforts in San Diego County to drop the word “case” when referring to homeless youth.

“We are asking for a 90-day public input period, in which the county CEO and leadership can facilitate discussions with the community on replacement terminology. There’s plenty of ideas,” Harris elaborated.

Kelly said a majority of the youth who go through the Sanctuary of Hope program are young people who have experienced some form of housing instability or housing crisis.

“The goal of the work that we do is really centered around helping young people leave here with leadership skills and other forms of what we call protective factors in order for them to continue on with their stabilization journey and become loving, caring and active citizens in this world,” Kelly said.

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