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