By Julianne Malveaux
Growing up in San Francisco was an exciting, amazing experience. I’m grateful that my mom (who did not drive) made sure that my siblings and I spent time at the Japanese Tea Garden, the de Young Museum, Chinatown, and parts of the Mission. We explored the Avenues and spent time with people whose cultural diversity surprised us. Sometimes we asked questions. Mostly, we just listened and learned. And we took any opportunity to eat at restaurants near the beach.
There was a Fun House [at Playland, a seaside amusement park in the Richmond district which closed in 1972] and “Laughing Sal” a big old clown, ushered you in. Sometimes we had enough money to enter. Other times, we would just look and laugh at the clown from a distance. We laughed because we could not get into Playland and at least one of us, usually my brother, tried to sneak in.
Brother was a trip. One of the highlights of our week was going to the Farmers’ Markets, working with my Mom’s list, while trying to save enough to get ice cream squares at the dairy end of the market. We could often save a few pennies because Brother bargained and fussed at the merchants who offered samples the size of fingernails. He let them know that, with his four sisters, they had to do better. Generally, we got four apples for the price of three, three plums for the price of two, and smiles because we (really Brother) knew how to bargain.
My most indelible memory is the revolutionary spirit that took the power structure to task. Brother and I often cut school to go to [Black] Panther headquarters on Fillmore Street. We weren’t central to the work. We stuffed envelopes, answered telephones, and reveled in the fact that we were present. We cut school to attend the “Free Huey” rally on May 1, 1969. We chanted, like everybody else: “Black is beautiful! Free Huey! Set our warrior free!” Months later, Huey P. Newton walked down Fillmore Street, the center of the African American community. I was all of 15 and completely committed to the movement. The first point of the Panther 10-point program was: “We want freedom, we want the power to determine our destiny.” Where are we now?
My mom, Proteone Malveaux, worked with Rev. Cecil Williams to preserve the African American presence in the Fillmore area. Urban renewal meant ‘Negro removal.’ Too many politicians ignored the validity of an African American presence in the city. It is disappointing to see African Americans pushed out of a city that we have honored and nurtured. Even in my home neighborhood, Bernal Heights, the demographic turnover is a function of the myopic indifference to our city’s diversity. There should be a commitment to diversity, a push to keep African Americans and others with lower incomes in the city whose multicultural diversity defines its energy and adventure.