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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

Activism

Tiny Homes Offer Hope for Holidays and Beyond

We are accepting applications for volunteers and accepting donations that we can use to build Tiny Homes. You might have things in your house or garage you haven’t used or extra construction tools, a bag of stud nails, used doors, windows, roofing materials, lumber, metal, hardwood flooring, sheetrock tape, paints, and anything that we can recycle to build and add to our Tiny Homes. 

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As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.
As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.

By Dr. Maritony A. Yamot and Rev. Ken Lackey

The holidays are the season when we stop and begin to think, “How can I give back this year and what are some different ways to help out?”

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help out during the holidays that don’t cost a thing. The Tiny Homes Project — with Rev. Ken Lackey of the Center for the Perfect Marriage Church at 6101 International Blvd. — needs to increase its capacity and we wanted to remind our community that everybody matters to God.

As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.

We want to launch an intensive month-long generosity campaign to help the increasing homeless issues in our neighborhoods by adding to the number of tiny homes that we have already built at various private locations in Oakland.

We invite you to join us as we partner with some of Oakland’s fabulous nonprofit organizations to meet critical needs in our communities.

Whether through donation or action, there are plenty of opportunities to give.

We are accepting applications for volunteers and accepting donations that we can use to build Tiny Homes. You might have things in your house or garage you haven’t used or extra construction tools, a bag of stud nails, used doors, windows, roofing materials, lumber, metal, hardwood flooring, sheetrock tape, paints, and anything that we can recycle to build and add to our Tiny Homes.

We are also looking for vehicle donations of trailers or any truck for hauling material and picking up volunteers and homeless people that are helping to build Tiny Homes. We build our homes with primarily donated and surplus materials, allowing us to cut costs and provide a pleasant home for under $40,000.

Each and every person who wants to help out and eradicate the homeless problem in the City of Oakland can donate funds for us to build a Tiny Home. If donors want to give money to the ministry, we will build a tiny home and name it after them. Know that your donations will be able to take a whole family off the street during this cold season.

In addition, we are open to getting a sponsor or sponsors for an entire Tiny Homes Community Park and we have a separate location that will be designated for homeless veterans, the elderly, single mothers or single fathers, and any individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, such as those living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, places not meant for habitation, or sleeping on our streets.

Please spread the word and contact us about any way you can help our Tiny Homes Community Project with Rev. Ken Lackey.

There are three ways to contact us

  1. By Phone/toll-free number: 1-833-233-8900 ext. 1
  2. By Email: TinyHomesC@gmail.com
  3. By Appointment/Donation Drop off location at the All About Grits Restaurant at 6101 International Blvd., Oakland, CA

Or you can attend our next two major events:

  1. Tiny Homes Fundraising Event on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. Place to be announced.
  2. Tiny Homes Community Building Workshop with the help of our community and local partners in the Bay Area. Date and place to be announced.

Contact us for more details of these two events or any ways you can help in this season.

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Activism

Faith Baptist Church Becomes Oakland’s First Official Resiliency Hub

Faith Baptist Church was the recipient of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Legacy Award. Faith was chosen out of a pool of dozens of applicants for the award. The key differentiator was the Solar Battery Storage project. With that, Faith Baptist has the ability to totally exit the PG&E grid and generate 100% energy from its solar panels. That makes Faith Baptist a potential energy distributor.

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As members of the community that comprise Faith Baptist Church look on, California Interfaith Power and Light Executive Director Susan Stephenson, left (in white jacket), hands scissors to the eldest member of Faith Baptist for the ribbon cutting on Nov. 14 while Pastor Curtis Robinson stands just behind him. Also pictured are District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb (white hair, white shirt) and to his right (multi-colored top) is Shayna Hirschfield-Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager. Photo courtesy of Faith Baptist Church and California Interfaith Power and Light.
As members of the community that comprise Faith Baptist Church look on, California Interfaith Power and Light Executive Director Susan Stephenson, left (in white jacket), hands scissors to the eldest member of Faith Baptist for the ribbon cutting on Nov. 14 while Pastor Curtis Robinson stands just behind him. Also pictured are District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb (white hair, white shirt) and to his right (multi-colored top) is Shayna Hirschfield-Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager. Photo courtesy of Faith Baptist Church and California Interfaith Power and Light.

By Curtis O. Robinson, Sr., M.A., Harvard University fellow, ’19, Senior Pastor, Faith Baptist Church

So, when I say that Faith Baptist is Oakland’s first Resiliency Hub, the first question that many people ask is, “what is a resiliency hub?”

In an article from the Christian Science Monitor entitled “Resilience hubs: A new approach to crisis response,” the author writes, “Things that shock a community have to do with climate, but more urgently they have to do with systemic inequities.”

He was referring to police shootings, civic unrest, the growth of homeless encampments and more. The resiliency hub approach to these inequities uses a respected local organization, such as a church or community center, and bolsters it to help neighborhoods prepare for crises — hurricanes, heat waves, pandemics or unrest — and to respond and recover from them.

When Faith was approached with the idea of solar panels for its rooftop as a source of heat, the decision was relatively a no-brainer.

As a House of Worship, there is a collective emphasis on the workings of God in the universe. The first job that God gave humanity was to tend the Garden. When it comes to environmental justice, our goal then is to take care of this place called planet Earth.

The world is now in an environmental tailspin. However, with technology that teaches us how to create sustainable outcomes, sprinkled with common sense, we can achieve an environmental balance that can create safe spaces environmentally for our children and for our future.

Faith Baptist Church was the recipient of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Legacy Award. Faith was chosen out of a pool of dozens of applicants for the award. The key differentiator was the Solar Battery Storage project.

With that, Faith Baptist has the ability to totally exit the PG&E grid and generate 100% energy from its solar panels. That makes Faith Baptist a potential energy distributor.

With the help of California Interfaith Power and Light and energy experts from the U.S. Green Building Council, we held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 14.

Joining us, among others, were Susan Stephenson, executive director of California Interfaith Power and Light, Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb of District 1, Shayna Hirschfield- Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager and members of Faith Baptist and the Pentecostal community that shares our space and Green Building volunteers.

We bask in the glory of energy independence, because we now tap into clean energy from above and not dirty energy from below.

Publisher’s note: Rev Curtis Robinson also is a columnist for the God on Wall Street column for the Post News Group.

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Activism

March Against Fear: When ‘Black Power’ Became Mainstream

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

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James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)
James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)

By Tamara Shiloh

It was June 5, 1966.

James Howard Meredith (born 1933), on a mission to encourage Black voter registration and defy entrenched racism in the South, set out on a solitary walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi.

On the second day of his journey, Aubrey Norvell, a white gunman, waited on a roadside a few miles south of Hernando, Mississippi. He ambushed Meredith, shooting him in the neck, head, and back.

Within 24 hours, the nation’s three principal civil rights organizations vowed to continue the march: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Success of the event could not be predicted. Leaders were aware that last-minute planning of a march could be dangerous, and the route chosen was not without uncertainty. The three-week march led to death threats, arrests, and the use of tear gas. Internal tensions surrounding leadership swelled and use of the slogan “Black Power” became a revolutionary phrase urging self-determination and Black pride.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of Black veterans from World War II who believed in armed self-defense, provided protection for participants. Founded in Jonesboro, La., in 1964, The Deacons for Defense had already protected civil rights activists from the Ku Klux Klan. About 20 chapters were created throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The march ended on June 22, 1966. Meredith, sufficiently recovered, had been able to rejoin the event. Participants supporting Meredith along the way joined in, making the total number of marchers arriving in Jackson about 15,000. The March Against Fear was one of the largest marches in history for that geographical area. It was during the post-march rally that Stokely Carmichael first used the phrase “we want Black Power” during a public speech.

Carmichael sought to define the quest for Black Power in constructive terms, explaining to supporters in Detroit that “Black votes created Black Power…That doesn’t mean that we are anti-white. We are just developing Black pride.”

Meredith had become well known when he successfully challenged the Kennedy administration to protect his civil rights. His application for admission to the University of Mississippi, dubbed Ole Miss, had been twice denied. With backing from the NAACP, he filed suit for racial discrimination.

After heavy negotiations with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Meredith was permitted to enroll at Ole Miss but only under escort of federal troops. He graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

Understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change in Anne Bausum’s “The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power.”

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