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In Memoriam

Remembering Ron Dellums:  A Leader for These Times

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As we approach the second anniversary of Ron Dellums’ transition, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ron.  The New York Times article about Ron’s life framed him as being 20 years ahead of his time, be it leading on South Africa anti-apartheid, national security, climate change, HIV/AIDs.

Many have spoken about Ron’s brilliant mind, his great courage, and his compassion for all.   Today, I want to talk about one of Ron’s magic powers and my relationship with him in order to uplift Black and Asian solidarity.  Ron had an uncanny superpower of seeing the inside of people, our true selves, our light.  And in that seeing, he would bring out the best in us.  A shy person would speak with eloquence and confidence.  A grumpy person would still emanate light and joy.  Ron’s magic power of seeing the best in people, lifting them up to their highest potential transformed my own life.

Ron Dellums changed my life even before I met him.  In my last year of law school, after years of struggle, I had a job offer from a big corporate law firm.  My mother, an immigrant single mom who was denied a college education and sacrificed so much for her children, was so proud of me.  Despite this, I couldn’t help but feel my soul leave my body on the way to work. In the midst of my inner turmoil, I came across an article about Ron Dellums where he spoke about the times of loneliness when he was following his conscience.   In that instance, I knew then that I wanted to be like Ron Dellums.  I wanted to be a person of courage, a person of conviction, a person who felt so passionate about justice.  Reading Ron’s words gave me the inner strength to pursue my dreams of justice.

As fate would have it, years later, serendipity struck and I met Ron Dellums, who changed my life again, this time in person.  I was serving as the attorney for an anti-displacement coalition during the Jerry Brown years in Oakland when fighting against displacement was a very lonely battle.  Ron flew across the country to come home and help us; I was assigned by the coalition to serve as his liaison.  Ron’s stance with the coalition turned the political tides and ultimately compelled City officials to address displacement impacts.

At a personal level, I experienced Ron’s magic powers at work.  During a heated meeting with the angry and privileged white developers who saw my role as a personal threat, Ron not only intervened but uplifted my leadership. Ron’s grace towards me enabled me to touch my own grace and rise above the attacks, rather than being taken down.

Later as mayor of Oakland, Ron and his wife Cynthia asked me along with others to join their City Administration.  I wanted to help them but was anxious about going into the inside of City Hall, a place I perceived as a den of back-stabbing and petty politics. Throughout the years, others have encouraged me to run for office or take on high profile jobs. I always declined because I held fear of holding power. I was afraid of going into the proverbial monster’s cave and becoming the monster.

Working at the City for Ron transformed my perspective.  I saw firsthand the power that government has to change the systems and structures of oppression, to heal the past injustices.  For example, despite the Great Recession, under Ron’s leadership, the Dellums Administration reduced homicides by 40%, created the national model Green Jobs Corp to fight poverty and climate change, and invested in re-entry jobs.

Because of Ron’s belief and trust in me and his other staff, I witnessed my own ability to hold power with honor, love, and integrity.  My transformation, of becoming into myself, of breaking bonds of racist and sexist conditioning that told me that I was not worthy, occurred because of Ron Dellums’ magic.

Today with so much at stake, we share many of Ron’s inspiring talks and images at The Dellums Institute for Social Justice.

May Ron Dellums’ magic power to bring out our best selves live on in you.

Activism

Hunters Point Entrepreneur Yolanda, ‘Londi’ Jones, 60

Jones was the president and CEO of Yolanda’s Construction Administration & Traffic Control (YCAT-C) an African-American and woman-owned business offering a wide range of administrative and traffic control services to support public and private sector clients on engineering-construction projects.

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Yolanda “Londi” Jones

Entrepreneur, community champion and philanthropist Yolanda “Londi” Jones died at her Richmond home on Feb. 18, 2021, a two-year battle with cancer. She was 60.

Jones was the president and CEO of Yolanda’s Construction Administration & Traffic Control (YCAT-C) an African-American and woman-owned business offering a wide range of administrative and traffic control services to support public and private sector clients on engineering-construction projects.

Jones started YCAT-C in 2010 with just $200 and two goals in mind:  to create a better way of life for her family and to employ men and women from the Bayview Hunter’s Point community where she grew up. She singled-handedly grew YCAT-C to a multi-million dollar company with 14 full-time employees.

In 2012, YCAT-C was named Small Business of the Year by the San Francisco Small Business Network (SFSBN). And in 2013, she was awarded the Business Leader Award by the National Council of Negro (NCNW) at the Golden Gate Section 30th Year Annual Celebration.

Born in San Francisco on Sept. 7, 1960, Jones went to neighborhood schools and graduated from George Washington High School.

Her entrepreneurial spirit showed early with engagement in several small businesses, including a fish-fry eatery that she started with her father, Charles Walker.

“Londi loved her community. She reached in and pulled out under-served men and women out and employed them, so they could have a better way of life,” said Ginger Jones, her niece.

“She believed everyone deserved a chance, so she gave everyone a chance. I don’t know what life will be like without Londi,” she said.

In 2016, YCAT-C made national headlines after Jones won the #PitchLeBronContest, a competition in which small business owners across the U.S. submitted 23-second videos vying for a highly sought after social media mention from A-list athlete Lebron James, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Jones masterfully used her 23-second pitch to talk about YCAT-C and their commitment to employing men and women from under-served neighborhoods as a pathway out of crime and poverty.

“Lebron I need your help. I’m an African-American, women-owned flagging business in Bayview Hunters Point San Francisco. We place men and women on construction projects to earn a decent living. Put the guns down, put the dope down, pick up a stop sign and earn a decent living,” Jones said, dressed in a construction vest, hard hat and holding up a stop sign.

James commended Jones for her work on his Facebook page, which had over 23 million followers.

“HUGE s/o to CLE Hustles #PitchLeBron winner Yolanda Jones & YCAT Control!! Loved watching the video. Keep going Yolanda, keep changing lives… your passion is inspiring.” James posted.

He also sent out a Tweet congratulating Jones from his Twitter account, which had 32 million followers at the time.

Jones was always able to leverage any publicity: by 2020, prior to the pandemic, Jones employed 50 people, 80% of whom were formerly incarcerated and Black residents of Bayview Hunters Point.

Jones will be remembered for her fearlessness, generosity of spirit and her love for the community.

She was preceded in death by her son, Leonard Bradley Jr.; brother-in-law, Jacoby Jones Sr., her favorite cousin, Hebret Walker, and her bonus son, Charles Johnson, Sr.

She is survived by her husband Rayshean Jones Sr., mother-in-law, Vickie Jones, her children, Geoffrea Morris (Erik), Meiko-Ann Davis, Lyn-Tise Jones (Jeremy), Raysean Jones Jr. and Rome Jones; her bonus children, Ginger Jones,  Jamese Jones, JaQuan Jones, Iyshawn Jones, Rayshanae Jones, and  LaDante Johnson; her siblings, Charlette Carnegia (Lester), Ruedell Mendoza (Michael), Lorraine Walker and Charles Walker Jr.,

The Jones family has arranged an all-day public viewing Friday, March 5 at Duggan’s Funeral Services, 3434 17th St., San Francisco, CA 94110. Due to COVID restrictions only groups of 20 or fewer are permitted at a time, so the family has booked multiple viewing slots: 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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Activism

Vernon Jordan, Former National Urban League President, Dead at 85

Jordan was the former president of the National Urban League and became a close adviser to Pres. Bill Clinton during his administration. A civil rights activist, Jordan also consulted former Pres. Barack Obama.

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In this March 3, 2011 photo, Vernon Jordan attends the 40th Anniversary Gala for “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing ToWaste” Campaign at The New York Marriott Marquis. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)

Civil rights leader, Democratic strategist and presidential insider Vernon Jordan died at his home in Wash., D.C., Monday evening at age 85. His cause of death was not disclosed.

Jordan was the former president of the National Urban League and became a close adviser to Pres. Bill Clinton during his administration. A civil rights activist, Jordan also consulted former Pres. Barack Obama.

A native of Atlanta, Ga., Jordan graduated from DePauw University in Indiana in 1957, where he was the only Black student in a class of 400. He detailed his experience as an undergrad in Robert Penn Warren‘s 1965 book, Who Speaks for the Negro?

Jordan went on to graduate from Howard University School of Law in 1960 and was a prominent member of Omega Psi Phi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities.

At one time a field director for the NAACP, Jordan’s passing was noted by Derrick Johnson, the current president of the organization. “Today, the world lost an influential figure in the fight for civil rights and American politics, Vernon Jordan,” Johnson said in a statement early Tuesday. “An icon to the world and a lifelong friend to the NAACP, his contribution to moving our society toward justice is unparalleled.”

“In 2001, Jordan received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for a lifetime of social justice activism,” said Johnson. “His exemplary life will shine as a guiding light for all that seek truth and justice for all people.”

On Twitter, fellow Georgian Stacey Abrams remembered Jordan as well. Mourning the passage of my friend, the extraordinary Vernon Jordan. He battled the demons of voter suppression and racial degradation, winning more than he lost. He brought others with him. And left a map so more could find their way. Love to his family. Travel on with God’s grace,” she said.

Journalist Jonathan Alter praised Jordan’s legacy. “Vernon Jordan’s epic journey from Jim Crow Georgia to the civil rights movement to the pinnacle of the American establishment is a classic American story,” Alter said. He was also one of the most engaging and charismatic people I’ve ever known—and a gifted storyteller on a summer afternoon.

In May of 1980, Jordan was shot outside of an Indiana hotel. As he recovered, Jordan was visited by then-President Jimmy Carter. The president’s visit and the shooting became the very first story covered on CNN, then the nation’s brand new, 24-hour cable news network.

After his time as an adviser to the Clinton White House, Jordan served on the board of several major corporations, including Revlon, Sara Lee, Corning, Xerox and RJR Nabisco.

His 2001 memoir, Vernon Can Read!: A Memoir, won the Best Nonfiction Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

In 2017, in one of his last major appearances, Jordan was the commencement speaker at Syracuse University.

Jordan leaves to cherish his memory his wife Ann Dibble Jordan, daughter Vickee Jordan Adams and seven grandchildren.

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Arts and Culture

In Memoriam: Former Supreme Mary Wilson Leaves Legacy of Black Pride and Resilience

Gordy expressed his sadness over Wilson’s death. “The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown,’” Gordy said. “Wilson, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, came to Motown in the early 1960s. After an unprecedented string of No. 1 hits, television and nightclub bookings, they opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others.”

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Mary Wilson

Mary Wilson, a co-founder of the best-selling girl group the Supremes, died in her sleep early Tuesday at her home in Las Vegas, Nev. She was 76.

A singer, best-selling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, former U.S. Cultural Ambassador, mother, and grandmother, the legendary Wilson made great strides on her inevitable journey to greatness.

As an original/founding member of The Supremes, she changed the face of popular music to become a trendsetter who broke down social, racial, and gender barriers, which all started with the wild success of their first No. 1 song in 1963.

With her childhood friend Florence Ballard and lead singer Diana Ross, the Supremes achieved an unprecedented 12 No.1 hits in the mid-1960s and became international superstars by 1964 on the Motown record label, started just a few years before by Berry Gordy.

Gordy expressed his sadness over Wilson’s death. “The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown,’” Gordy said. “Wilson, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, came to Motown in the early 1960s. After an unprecedented string of No. 1 hits, television and nightclub bookings, they opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others.”

Born in Greenville, Miss., on March 6, 1944, Wilson moved North with her family ending up in Detroit, Wis., where Berry Gordy’s Motown record label was just warming up.

She was a school friend of Ballard, who invited her to audition for the Primettes, a sister group to a boys’ trio called the Primes.

Wilson was accepted and she and Ballard would be joined by Diana Ross and Betty McGlown. By 1962, they were a trio and their first hit – “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” — came the following year.

“Where Did Our Love Go?” became their first song to reach No. 1 on the pop charts and a string of hits followed making them international superstars by 1964.

With the Supremes, Wilson achieved an unprecedented 12 No.1 hits, with five of them consecutive from 1964-65. Those songs are “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and “Back in My Arms Again,” according to Billboard Magazine.

But all was not well. In 1967, Gordy decided to change their name to Diana Ross and the Supremes and Ballard decided to leave the group. Many years later, Wilson would express her disappointment and stick up for her friend, lobbying for a U.S. postage stamp with Ballard’s image.

“People forget that Florence Ballard not only gave us our name, but she formed the group,” Wilson revealed on “Fiyah!” a program sponsored by the Black Press of America.

“It was really Flo who formed us, and I want people to know that. I am putting together a program to get Florence Ballard a U.S. stamp, hopefully, so I want people to send their request and say something about Florence” Wilson said of her friend who died of a heart attack in 1976.     “All those hits were Florence, so when you are  listening to [The Supremes], it’s about Flo, so I want people who listen to those songs that bring back memories, think about Flo.”

Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong and the group continued to perform until 1970 when Ross would leave the group for a solo career in 1970. The group continued to have hits like “Stoned Love” in 1970.

By the mid-1970s, Wilson was doing half of the Supremes’ lead vocals but she left the group in 1977.

Nearly a decade later, Wilson found success in writing her memoirs: “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme,” in 1986 and “Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together” in 1990.

She became a frequent guest on TV talk shows and performed regularly in Las Vegas casinos and resorts.

Colin Powell named her a cross-cultural ambassador in 2002 and she appeared at events sponsored by the State Dept.

Wilson released CDs in 2006 and 2010, while also becoming a musical activist, going to court to prevent impostors from performing under the names of groups from the 1950s and ‘60s, including the Motown group the Marvelettes as well as the Supremes. The law was passed in 27 states.

She lectured all over the world giving advice on reaching goals and triumphing over adversity and became known for her charity work with the American Cancers Society, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and the NAACP among others, including the Figure Skaters of Harlem, which encourages youth gain entry to the Olympics.

In 2019, Wilson appeared in a “Dancing With the Stars” segment and published “Supreme Glamour,” an appreciation of the fashion the Supremes wore on stage. A collection of the gowns has been on exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, since 2008.

With the Supremes, Wilson was inducted into the National Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2013 and received a lifetime Achievement Award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association in 2020.

Wilson married Pedro Ferrer in 1974 and the couple had three children: Turkessa, Pedro Antonio and Rafael. She and Ferrer divorced in 1981. In 1994, Rafael was killed in a car accident.

“Ms. Wilson used her fame and flair to promote a diversity of humanitarian efforts, including ending hunger, raising HIV/AIDS awareness, and encouraging world peace. Mary was working on getting a U.S. postage stamp of her fellow bandmate and original Supreme Florence Ballard who passed away in 1976,” longtime publicist and friend Jay Schwartz said.

She was working on new projects for 2021, including an album she recently teased on her YouTube channel. Her primary love was preserving the legacy of the Supremes and introducing her music to new generations.

“I think that The Supremes had a lot to do with the awakening of the world in terms of what blackness was,” Wilson said in her 2020 NNPA interview. “The whole world was watching Black people in a way they’d never seen.”

Wikipedia, Stacy Brown/NNPA contributed to this report.

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