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Black History Month speakers urge African Americans remain in San Francisco

Standing room only celebrants fill City Hall Rotunda Friday
as San Francisco embraces national Black History Month.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Pat Murphy

February 5, 2006

Opening of Black History Month filled the San Francisco City Hall Rotunda Friday with gratitude for African American institutions maintained and anguished call to save the children.

A mayor pledged his city to no longer advance civil rights from the margins, as civil and elected leaders stressed there is no time to lose.

San Francisco Mayor Newsom suggested San Francisco "is on the precipice of fundamental change," noting the city must produce on its own in face of Bush administration indifference.

Mayor Gavin Newsom addresses overflow crowd

"While we've made a lot of progress in this country - the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act - we've been playing the margins," said Newsom.

"A lot has changed but so much remains the same.

"I get that, and I recognize that if we continue to do what we've done, we'll get exactly what we've got.

"What we have is unacceptable.

"We tried hard in San Francisco to deal with that backdrop but it's not been good enough and I get that.

"...We are committed to reconciling the challenges in the community. We are committed to doing more and to doing better, and in poet Shawn's Williams words to taking action and not waiting for someone on Air Force One to come in and save the day.

"I want to end by expressing some optimism.

"I think the stars are aligning - I think we are on the precipice of fundamental change.

"I think we've got the right people in the right places. Our hearts are certainly in the right place.

"But now we've got to take the action that we all expect and we all deserve, together.

"And I can assure you that this time next year we're going to make an enormous amount of progress - I commit to you that, I pledge to you that.

"So let us dedicate this month to change. Let us dedicate this month to recognizing everything that is good and right in the community.

"Let us dedicate ourselves to renewing our efforts and committing ourselves to become as I said the change that we want to see in this world.

"Happy Black History Month."

California Assemblyman Mark Leno quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in King's message of hope.

San Francisco leaders from left, Reverend Doctor Amos Brown,
president of the San Francisco NAACP and board member of the
national NAACP; California 13th Assembly District representative
Mark Leno, San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi,
and San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty.

"In memory of Mrs. King, Rosa Parks, and all the great community leaders who left us this past year...one of my favorite quotes of Dr. King," Leno recalled.

California Assemblymember Mark Leno

"Dr. King said that 'We all hope that the dark clouds of prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding through our fear will be lifted from our fear drenched community, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.' "

The desolation of black-on-black violence was remembered by San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris emphasizes
that there is no greater service to the African American community
than ending black-on-black violence.

"In the last two years in the City and County of San Francisco we've had 184 homicides and 60% of the victims of those homicides were African Americans - in spite of the fact that we have a population in San Francisco where only seven percent of the community is African American," stated Harris.

"And I suggest to you that when we're talking about pledging ourselves we have nothing as great as the challenge that these statistics present to us in terms of what we need to do to serve our community to stop this entire generation, in particular African American men, from wiping themselves out from this City and County.

"So as we go through the day...and talk about the beauty of our heritage and our culture, and we reflect on the passing of great people such as Rosa Parks and of course Mrs. King, let us remember that time is passing.

"And so they have passed because time is passing and we've got to focus on today, and the challenges presented by today, and dedicate ourselves to service in their spirit by acting now because time is ticking and we've got a lot of work to do.

"If we're going to celebrate our heritage it will be by dedicating ourselves to our future - to making sure that we are doing something as a community about loss of this life."

African American revolutionary message shaped early years of San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, he pointed out.

District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi

"I just want to say that as someone who grew up with posters of Martin and Malcolm on my walls, high with fists in the air, what inspired me wasn't just the particular message but their leadership to the grassroots promise that organized the people, that organized communities everywhere to fight for what we thought was right.

"Why I'm here today celebrating this month is because I think of this month is a retrenchment.

"A retrenchment because...it is that same kind of laser focus that we need so that it is rededicated and ratcheted up to face the real threats that are facing our community.

"If we're talking about closing schools down then we're talking about joblessness and we're talking about quality housing.

"What we're talking about then is a resurgence of a strategy that we may not see with the threat of the Bush administration or a misguided legislature or a governor anywhere.

"This is what I am hoping today is about - that recommitment, that rededication continues on."

African Americans succeeded against odds to retain their identify added San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell.

Fortunately loss of identify did not occur, reports San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell.

"I'm going to read something to you," Maxwell began.

"'What happens when a people is without institutions to articulate its concerns, preserve its heritage, or make manifest its desires?

"'It is vanquished.

"'Made into an oppressed calf or it is assimilated into the majority culture, losing its distinctiveness, diminishing its voice, dissipating its ranks.'

"Well fortunately for us that did not happen and it probably will not happen as long as we have institutions that we are honoring today.

"Those institutions came about because we had no choice.

"We had nowhere else to go. And so we decided that...we were going to have institutions, we were going to have social places - we were going to have people that we could know within each other that we are doing the right thing.

"That we could talk with each other, pat each other on the back, and tell each other how good we were doing and then we could go out and get other people.

"Those institutions are important. We must take every opportunity to make sure they continue.

"As middle class African Americans, as we age...we're moving to Atlanta, we're moving to Arizona - we're moving out of the city.

"Who is left in those cities? Older people who own homes and our youth.

"We really have to rethink and re-look at where we're going. Where are the links going to be? Where are the fraternities and the sororities going to be?

"Now you are also challenged because there is integration and so people are choosing other fraternities and other sororities.

"What are you doing to offer them? What are you doing to say, 'No, I'm going to make them stay here.'

"We need to do a better job. The mayor reiterated all the issues that are facing us today. What are you doing about them?

"Kamala Harris mentioned service. How are you servicing?

"Who is going to fill your ranks - we need to start today.

"I can tell you that when you look at foster care, when you look that our children are eight percent of the population and over 50% of the people in foster care...

"When you look at the young men who are killing and who have been killed that some of them have been through foster care - we need some help here, folks.

"We need Jack and Jill to come down out of the bourgeois and come down to earth and come down to where we are.

"We need those young people. We need those young people to befriend the other people.

"And then we also need to do a better job.

"These young people - no matter how low the pants are - you make sure you speak to them. The lower the pants are the more they need to be spoken to.

"That means that every young person in San Francisco will be spoken to. That makes a difference.

"I believe the mayor is really looking at some innovative programs. We're working together and I really appreciate all of that. And I also appreciate that he's able to turn.

"He saw maybe a wrong direction that he was going in and he turned.

"I saw him on television about making mistakes. It is important to make mistakes. It is good to make mistakes because then you can know where you're going.

"You know the police have said that they have focused in, focused in on taking some of our youth off the streets.

"Well if they can do that we can focus on giving them something else."

One youth, 16-year-old poet Shawn Williams, Jr., focused audience ovation with a reading which opened the celebration.

Shawn Williams, Jr.

"People come up to me, some of you have heard my poem, and tell me it's a good poem and everything, that you like it, but Black History Month isn't just a poem," Williams began.

"Black History Month isn't just a hope. Black History Month isn't just a person. Black History Month is a people - and I just want everybody to remember that."




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