Black Past and Presence - Curated by Jarrel Phillips

Part 2. I AM SAN FRANCISCO: Black Past and Presence
City College of San Francisco—Rosenberg Library

April 16 - November 3, 2016
Part of Our San Francisco Spring 2016 Library Exhibitions

I AM SAN FRANCISCO: Black Past and Presence first shown in the 3rd and 4th floor atrium galleries of the Rosenberg Library of the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) at 50 Phelan Avenue from April 16 to November 3, 2016. 

Created and curated by Jarrel Phillips, the exhibit explores how black life presents itself through culture, art and organization, both historically and currently, using visual art, commentary and personal reflections from city residents and community leaders. It features art from the Three Point Nine Collective, an association of black artists, curators, and art writers based in San Francisco whose members include Phillips and Sidney “Sage” Cain.

This exhibit is a continuation of I AM SAN FRANCISCO: (Re)collecting the Homes of Native Black San Franciscans, inspired by conversations on diversity within blackness and curated by Kheven LaGrone. It was featured earlier this year at the San Francisco Main Public Library and in ReimagineRPE—the national journal for social and environmental justice. Both exhibits seek to make visible the significance, depth and diversity of black life and culture in San Francisco in response to the overwhelming impression that it has faded away. In the words of James Baldwin, “We are the San Francisco that no one talks about.”

“San Francisco has always been a city in transition, characterized by its commitment to cultural diversity and creative communities. Our intent is to share our insight on our ever-changing city by recognizing the depth, beauty, complexity, and abundance prevalent within ‘Black life’ in San Francisco—culturally, communally and individually. I am a product of San Francisco and San Francisco is a product of me,” says Phillips.

I AM SAN FRANCISCO, a recipient of Southern Exposure’s 2016 Alternate Exposure grant, is presented by the social justice-focused City College Library Exhibition Program, which addresses the interests and concerns of the CCSF community. Project collaborators include the CCSF African American Studies Department and Reimagine!.

This project will unfold with a short film, a print version, and a culminating event collaboration with Reimagine!

Featured Artists/Storytellers:
Jess Clarke; Christine Joy Ferrer; Kheven LaGrone; Dr. Amos C. Brown; Ahmad Jones; Aliyah Dunn-Salhuddin; Alma Robinson; Dr. Andrew Jolivette; Emory Douglas; Sophie Maxwell; Dr. Joseph Marshall; Thea Matthews; Virginia Jourdan; Kali O’ray; Stewart Shaw; Blanche Brown; Bongo Sidibe; Ras K’dee; Carol Tatum; Edward Jackson; Isaih Ball; Joanna Haigood; Maya Rogers; Liz Jackson-Simpson; Marco Senghor; Megan Dickey; Sydney “Sage” Cain; Sabrina Lawrence; Dr. Toye Moses, Theo Ellington; Thomas Simpson; Wanda Holland-Greene; Jacqueline Francis; Wanda Sabir; William Rhodes; Michael Ross; Rhiannon MacFayden; Devorah Major; Gregory Harden; Virginia Marshall; Xavier “Chavi Lopez” Schmidt; Tania Santiago; Samoel “Urubu Malandro” Domingos; Halima Marshall; Careem Conley; Mohammed Bilal; Kristine Mays; Michole “Micholiano” Forks; Katherine Connell; Mark Harris; Assata Conley; Jamila Turalba-Khalil; Malik Turalba-Khalil; Seneca Jackson; Ruby Jasmine; Madison Moody.

Jarrel Phillips is a curator, youth worker, capoeira instructor, and storyteller who uses performance, writing, photography, and film as his medium. Learn more about his work at For exhibition details, contact or visit

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By Jarrel Phillips

Collage by Mark HarrisI am a product of San Francisco and San Francisco is a product of me. San Francisco has always been a city in transition, characterized by its commitment to cultural diversity and creative communities. It was once home to a significant and vibrant African American population. San Francisco State University started the nation’s first Black Studies Program in 1968 and the Fillmore District was often called the Harlem of the West. But according to the last census, San Francisco has had one of the largest declines in Black population of any large city since the 1970s when Blacks made up 13.4 percent of the city. By 2013, the Black population was less than half of that and it has declined visibly since then. The African American middle class has almost disappeared and San Francisco’s public schools reflect that continuing decline in population. According to the San Francisco Unified School District, its African American student population plummeted almost 60 percent from 2001 to 2015.

I Am San Francisco: Black Past & Presence makes visible the significance, depth and diversity of black life and culture in San Francisco in response to the overwhelming impression that it has faded away. In the words of James Baldwin, “We are the San Francisco that no one talks about.” IAMSF explores how black life presents itself through culture, art and organization, both historically and currently, using visual art, commentary and personal reflections from city residents, community leaders and artists, most born and raised in San Francisco.

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Art of Living Black

An interview with Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin by Jarrel Phillips

Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin is a professor at City College of San Francisco where she teaches African American history in the United States.

Aliyah Dunn-Sa;ahuddin c. 2016 Jarrel PhillipsJarrel Phillips: Talk about your experience in San Francisco. Are you from here?

Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin: Yes, I’m definitely from San Francisco. My family migrated to San Francisco between the second and third waves of the Great Migration. They came from Kilgore, TX, which is a small railroad town that built up around the 1870s. My grandmother and her sisters came here pretty much just like a lot of other African American people, looking for new opportunities and a different way of life. They were sharecroppers… born on a farm. They didn’t have birth certificates. They did not know how to read. So they wanted to give new opportunities to my mother, who was born in San Francisco.

Phillips: Why do you think the past is sometimes hidden or not so easily accessed?

Dunn-Salahuddin: There are several reasons, most simply, it’s because it’s a painful past. A lot of our ancestors were leaving and escaping things that they didn’t want us to experience, things that they didn’t want us to know. In my classroom, when I’m teaching about the Great Migration I ask, “How many of your families are from Louisiana or Texas?” Over half of the African American students raise their hands. I know that that history is there. I also know that a lot of the students, like myself when I was their age, don’t know a lot about how their families came to be here. I think it has to do with its being a very painful past.

Our ancestors had to find some way to go on every day, to continue to survive in the best way that they could. Not talking about it, putting on “the face,” presenting yourself respectably, building a life, that was what they had to do. But in doing that, we lose a lot of our story. I think it is my job to recover my family story.

Phillips: What is Black culture? What is Black presence? Were they intertwined in your childhood?

Dunn-Salahuddin: Culture is everything. For my family, culture is the way that they cooked, the dishes that they made, the blues that they listened to, the communities that they built at the churches here that they transplanted from the South. Culture is what held the family together. Black culture is a very wide net.

From an American perspective, the word “Black” (to me) encompasses all the people of the diaspora. There is not one single type of Black culture. If I go to Columbus, GA to visit my grandmother or I go to New Orleans to visit someone else, I’m going to experience different cultures, different elements of African American culture. But if I go to Jamaica, I’m going to see another element of that Black diaspora, so I think that we have to make a distinction between Black culture and African American culture.

Black culture is a medium through which we understand who we are as a people. I think that it’s particularly important for African American people because so much of that identity was stripped away through slavery. That culture is the way that we reinvent ourselves and pass on information.

Ella Hill Hutch Community Center mural in S.F. Fillmore District c. 2016 Jarrel PhillipsPhillips: How important do you think it is to acknowledge your heritage? How important is it to see and understand that Black culture links back to before slavery and the African Diaspora?

Dunn-Salahuddin: Very important. My mom grew up during the era of the Civil Rights Movement in San Francisco. My parents were a part of the Nation of Islam but then became orthodox Muslims and were part of this large Black Muslim community, so I’ve always had a sense of my African heritage. The Black Panthers started in Oakland. Ethnic studies started in San Francisco State.

I understood that my family and my upbringing gave me a different sort of lens, a third eye. So I think in San Francisco it was very easy for me to tap into the diaspora and have a broader sense because at my elementary school we were doing capoeira, or being a part of the Black Muslim community here, being around all these other African American people fasting, praying, going to school together. So I always had a sense of my African heritage, and that was just a part of my upbringing. It was important to my parents, not so much my grandparents, but my parents who were coming of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s and starting families.

Phillips: What do you think is the importance of our cultural art forms? Of us embracing them and being a part of them?

Dunn-Salahuddin: The arts and the performing arts—dance, music and song—those things can be used to transmit and preserve knowledge, to preserve history, to pass down traditions. It’s a part of our West African heritage. When 90 percent of our ancestors were trapped in an institution where they were discouraged from reading (even though we did find ways to learn), where their intellect wasn’t something that the slave masters wanted them to build up, the arts took on a whole different purpose.

So when I’m telling my children a story, or when I’m teaching them a song, or if we’re working and we’re singing a work song, that’s a way to get through, to get by—that’s where the blues come from. Look at how deep of an impact the blues and jazz have had on America music.

We brought our cultures with us when we migrated and that helped us to sustain identity in place. It’s pivotal and vital to our survival and to our healing. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, our goals and motivations for engaging in the performing arts are, “I’m going to make it big. I’m going to get rich.” But before, people did it to heal themselves, to release, for community. And that’s what hip-hop is, right? Before it was a musical form, it was people coming together with music and building community.

Phillips: History. Why is it important?

Mural in San Francisco's Bayview District c. 2016 Jarrel PhillipsDunn-Salahuddin: Wow. History is everything to me. Of course, I’m a historian saying that, right? But, for me as a Black woman, history gave me my sense of self. A lot of historians, particularly historians who study the antebellum period and slavery in the civil war, are white men. As an African American woman, I wanted to understand the story for myself. I wanted to also take up that space. To be in front of the classroom because I thought, “If I’m not teaching history, then who else is going to be teaching that class? What can I bring to that class?”

James Baldwin says, “History is in everything that we do.” We are unconsciously and consciously driven by it, right? Our history is a story of survivors. This is not a story of victimhood.

If I can give a Black student, a young Black student, a sense that this is not just a tragic story, this is actually a story of resilience, beauty and grace beyond what most people even understand, it helps them get through their daily life. It helps them survive… feel important. So then, maybe they’ll think twice about taking the life of somebody else.

Phillips: You draw a picture of a great correlation between past and present/presence. What are some of the things for our generation to do?

Dunn-Salahuddin: People really sacrificed and fought so much for us to inhabit these spaces. This African American Studies Department is a product of a student strike at San Francisco State, right? It’s still a struggle, but I think it’s up to us to utilize all the resources that we have attained by inhabiting these spaces, by building communities and institutions, and preserving the ones that are already built. We don’t even have to build new ones.

I think our challenge is self. It’s not about this external stuff. It’s about us looking inward, deciding for ourselves what success is, trying to draw real connections between each other—men and women, mothers and daughters, fathers. We can’t go anywhere unless we start to look inside of ourselves. We’ve got all this information. As unequal as the system is, we’ve got a lot more wiggle room, so to speak, than a generation or two before. I’m not saying, it’s all good, I’m saying that we have to not take for granted what was sacrificed for us. That’s a journey of self-healing that every Black person has to go on.

We have all these material things about us, but we are still unhappy, we are depressed, we take it out on our loved ones, we abuse one another, we kill each other, and we sell drugs to one another. I think that until we can start to have a sense of self-love and respect for ourselves as a generation, all that work that was done before is going to be undone. Our challenge is to look inside of ourselves and find that happiness despite everything because the system can’t take you down if you have that light inside of you already.

So, it’s just about finding that light and giving the young people another mind frame to see and understand who they are, so that they can see things are possible. It’s make-or-break right now. So many Black men are in prison. It’s because we don’t have a sense of self and community that they’re forced into these situations that put them at the end of a gun or put them in prison, and then they think this is who they are. It’s so sad when I talk to young Black men or women and they’re surprised they made it to 30 years old. We should not be having that outlook on life, you know? I just think it’s that self-healing that’s really our job, working within our own communities and finding that love for ourselves because if we can’t find that love for ourselves… I don’t know.


Redefining Blackness

Featured quote by Rask K'dee c. 2016 Christine Joy Ferrer

“There are as many ideas and identities as there are Black people. We have never been a homogenous group. Black presence is fluid. Acknowledging Black presence is acknowledging Black diversity."

Thea Matthews, Artist, Poet, Activist

“All Black people, we are brothers and sisters. We can feel the same thing because your ancestors are my ancestors. It doesn’t matter that I’m from Brazil and that you’re from the United States, Haiti, or Cuba. We still feel the same thing that our ancestors experienced. The racism still happens. I want to see us come together and support each other.”

Tania Santiago, Afro-Brazilian Dance Teacher and Aguas Artistic Director

“One of my favorite words that I wish we still used is “Afro-American,” because it’s not just talking about Africa. Yes, I have an identity there. But it’s Afro-Brazilian, or Afro-this that tells about the flavor, the history and my more ancient connections. It feels more authentic and I have always really liked that. It represents the seasoning of who I am, and that is a connection. Africa is a huge place with many countries and languages. When you say “African American,” it’s like saying I’m from a whole continent that I’ve never been to. Afro-American speaks of my lineage.”

Rhiannon Evans MacFadyen, Curator and Project-based Artist

“The culture and expression of Black folks: self-determination, the suffering, the pain and the love. If you can capture that in your artwork, you’ve made the connection with the community and the broader community as well. We were talking about revolutionary culture for transforming society. Our art was a reflection of what was going on in the world.”

Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party

Mixed Media by Sydney "Sage" Cain c. 2016 Christine Joy Ferrer

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Our San Francisco

Illustration by Seneca Jackson c. 2016 Christine Joy Ferrer

“It’s important to understand where you live. There is indigenous culture from where you are. If you live in San Francisco, learn about the Ohlone people. They are the true natives of this land. Learn about their traditions and their culture. Learn about what this used to look like before it became covered with concrete. Think about that when you’re walking down the concrete street. This used to be a rich marshland, a bird paradise where millions of birds used to flock. San Francisco has a lot of history. If we look at the indigenous communities that lived here and still live here, we could learn some of the ways in which they maintained their survival for hundreds of years."

Ras K’dee, Musician, Youth Worker and Producer
Audiopharmacy and Seventh Native American Generation

“San Francisco has really produced some of the most radical changes that we’ve seen in our society in modern times. How many firsts has San Francisco accomplished in terms of political mobilization or organizing? I believe there still remains a place where we can produce radical change. The question is: will we do it bringing everyone along for the ride or will we displace so many people that it will no longer be that place of radical transformation but yet a new place of neoliberal bullshit? I don’t think there’s any nicer way of putting it. Will the city turn into this unimportant or insignificant political space?"

Andrew Jolivette, Chair of American Indian Studies, San Francisco State University

“A huge piece of what I teach to my daughter is about differences and respecting what you have and knowing that you’re blessed even if you don’t live in a multimillion dollar house. We talk about homelessness because those are very real things that she comes in contact with every day. I don’t ever want her to be able to ignore these societal issues, no matter what her position in life becomes."

Maya Rodgers, Community Advocate and Social Worker

Graphic by Sabrina Lawrence


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Xavier Estrella Schmidt


Xavier Estrella Schmidt. ©2016 Jarrel Phillips

Let me tell you a story. I was 15 years old. I was a quiet dude and I was dorky. I wasn’t hood and I wasn’t in your face. That wasn’t me. I liked golf. I liked little toy models and I liked graffiti. There was this Armenian kid who used to love wearing Southpole jeans, which was cool back then and I’ll never forget what he told me. This white kid says, ‘Man, I’m blacker than you.’ I just sat there quiet. I didn’t know what to say to that at the time. I’m thinking, ‘What does that mean? What did he mean by that? I’m blacker than you?’

That North American pop culture contemporary perception of blackness is influential and present everywhere in the world. We’re seen through that lens and we’re supposed to fit into that mold… that box. Neither being mixed, nor my deep appreciation and love for soul and funk music mattered at that moment because I wasn’t that box. I didn’t sag my pants. I didn’t cuss out my teachers. I didn’t act tough. I wasn’t the stereotypical Black male. I didn’t fit that construct.

To him, blackness was a way of dressing. It’s a way of speaking. It’s the music you listen to. I’ve always tried to understand that mentality. You can be in hip hop culture and identify yourself with hip hop. But that’s not the same as someone who thinks they’re Black.

 ‘I’m blacker than you.’

Xavier Estrella Schmidt
Muralist and Graffiti Artist

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Wanda Marie Holland Greene

Courtesy of Wanda Holland GreeneWelcome to America. We were not invited in. We were systematically kept out. We were not even considered people. We were listed as property: a table, a chair, ‘African American female,’ and ‘African American male.’

Someone said to me the other day, ‘Who says we want to be included?’ I said, ‘Hmm. If you don’t want to be included because you’d rather be left alone, is that a healthy psychological state? Have you become so frustrated by what goes on in the mainstream, so discouraged by the lack of access, so hurt by every overt or covert act of racism, sexism, homophobia, and oppression? Are you so undone by what’s going on in the mainstream that your desire to be immersed is actually a retreat into a refuge? If that’s the case, should I be insisting that you come out of that space of safety?’

I believe we should heal ourselves in community and then move into the mainstream because I’m an agitator. I think other people get better when diverse communities are together. Diversity is a component of excellence. I’ve always thought of inclusion and integration as the goal. But there are people that are questioning whether or not they want to be included. They’re like, ‘You don’t want me to be in your city? I’m going to build my own city. You don’t want me to patronize your business? I’m going to create my own.’

I worry about the rhetoric that’s going on in America right now. As an educator my job is to help children recognize these lies about who people are, what their contributions have and have not been, and who is moral and who’s not. As parents and educators we must interrupt this cycle of inferiority so that they feel that America belongs to them. Langston Hughes said it best, ‘I, too, sing America.’

Wanda Marie Holland Greene
Head of The Hamlin School


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Sophie Maxwell

Sophie Maxwell ©2016 Jarrel Phillips

I remember this educator came. They had a meeting, and asked, ‘What do Black people want for their kids?’ I was so insulted. Of course we want the same thing you want. We want everything everybody else wants. We want healthy communities, healthy places for our families and our children, and great schools so they can be well educated. We want good, decent policing so that we’re not afraid of, not only the gangsters, but also the police. They’re gangsters too, in some ways. We want the same things other people want. We want what you have. You have an education. Your children go to school and they have music lessons. That’s the same thing we all want. We want to take our kids fishing. We want to take them on Saturday afternoons to the show and to church on Sunday. Then after church we want to take them for a ride. We want them to be healthy. We want to be happy.

Sophie Maxwell
Former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, District 10


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Dr. Amos Brown

Dr. Amos Brown. ©2016 Jarrel Phillips

Too many people make a lot of bad decisions choosing to see evil and wrong in things because they don’t know or understand it. Nobody has a monopoly on spirituality. Spirituality is what you do with the totality of your being and treating others with respect. What Dr. King valued was personalism. Personalism means every individual has worth and dignity. Your religion is not to be dumped on someone else.

Slavery, the Crusades, and the witch-hunts were done in the name of religion. I visited this beautiful chapel in Ghana. The chapel is up top, but under the chapel was a dungeon where our forbearers were stacked like sardines to prepare them to be corralled onto slave ships. That is the contradiction of America. The church needs to have a renaissance of its best beliefs and practices. There was a holistic concern about what happened to the group, to the people. What happened to us, as a group, was enslavement.

Many of the elders were intimidated, threatened and even killed for holding on to the best of our African traditions. Any Negro who was educated, really educated, was a dangerous Negro. They were mutilated and whipped. Their fingers were chopped off. Our forbearers were afraid to raise questions. Hence, we did not stay put in terms of embracing the best of our spiritual traditions that came from Africa. Our slave masters saw it to their advantage to cut our ancestors off from their roots.

One of the factors that has enabled the Jewish tradition to survive is that they’ve always had a ritual of remembrance. They never forgot the fathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We so easily forget or we’re so easily told by our oppressors: don’t remember. We don’t have rituals of remembrance in our black community. Once a year is not enough. We need repetition and daily rituals.

Dr. Amos Brown
Pastor of the Historic Third Baptist Church
President of the San Francisco Chapter of the NAACP


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Mohammed Soriano Bilal

Mohammed Soriano Bilal. ©2016 Jarrel Phillips

African Americans built San Francisco and I don’t just mean the bricks. In its earliest origins, historian John Templeton said that there were four Black men involved in what San Francisco was going to become. Look at people like William Leidesdorff Jr., whose statue is in the Financial District. He’s one of the key architects to decide whether San Francisco was going to be called San Francisco or Yerba Buena. He was a multiracial brother of African descent. And, Pio Pico was Mexican, African American and Spanish. These were some of San Francisco’s architects.

San Francisco is an estuary. It’s a place where things grow, flourish and spread out. It’s the energy from this geographical region that established a fertile ground for artistic creation. They talk about San Francisco making Richard Pryor into the Richard Pryor we all know because of our art scene.

The African American Art & Culture Complex in particular has been serving the community for almost 40 years. When San Francisco had over 100,000 Black people in its population, it was where people went when they needed a place to grow their creativity and professional experience so they could find more opportunities. Many historic and significant Black leaders and artists got their start here. Delroy Lindo and Danny Glover were part of the Black writers workshop hosted here with Buriel Clay. This center has functioned not only for preserving culture but also for elevating Black arts.

Today artists are fleeing San Francisco in record numbers. They have been for the last 10 years. But, this complex is one of the few places that subsidizes Black art and Black art companies—Cultural Odyssey, African American Shakespeare and Lorraine Hansberry Theatre—making it even more important because thousands of artists go through Black art companies. If we lose a center like this, we lose pretty much the last place where Black art is allowed to exist in San Francisco in a real way. We need Black art and culture because it’s the social fabric of San Francisco, a place known for its multicultural diversity. The idea of multiculturalism has been here since the Gold Rush.

We did a study recently with Hewlett Packard and found out that 42 percent of our audience is from Alameda County and 42 percent from San Francisco. The African American Art & Culture Complex is not just important to the city of San Francisco, it’s important to the Bay Area and Black culture from both sides of the Bay. Pretty soon we are going to depend on places like this to connect us to Black culture. It’s not going to be in a lot of other places.

Mohammed Soriano Bilal
Executive Director of the African American Art & Culture Complex

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Alma Robinson

Alma Robinson. ©2016 Jarrel Phillips

The intersection of art and politics started in the Constitution with the First Amendment, which is about freedom of expression. From that idea, we embrace expression, and sometimes you have to be political about it in terms of artistry.

How do the arts and culture contribute to economy and social well-being? How is the history of art important to people in terms of their cultural well-being? For example, during colonial wars, when the Europeans were taking over large swaths of the African continent, they also claimed a lot of the cultural property of Africans. If you go to the British Museum, you see shelves of dolls, iconic instruments and masks that were taken wholesale from villages in Africa up and down the west coast. People were deprived of a part of their cultural heritage, and maybe in a way that made it easier to colonize them because you could then come in with your own system of education, values and language and replace all the things that were grounding people in their own culture and history.

I think if you applied that to our situation in San Francisco you would say, ‘Are we managing our cultural resources so that they can’t be taken away and are we using them? Are we celebrating our culture enough?’

People were starting to say, ‘We need to recover our past. We’ve been ripped off. We need to get some of these things back that are really important.’ The takeaway from that is: What do you owe for removing something more than a hundred years ago? Do you need to return that? And, on the other side, if you get it back, how do you reintegrate it into your society? How do you care for it? Do you have the cultural infrastructure in place—the museums, the thought leaders, the art historians—to really manage collections and can that information be transferred in an effective way?

Alma Robinson
Director of California Lawyers for the Arts


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Healing and Heritage

“Don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget the people who brought you here. Learn about your ancestors, what they had to go through so that you can do the things that you do now. I always tell the stories of my grandmother because she was doing things to get away from the South long before the Civil Rights marches. Then when my husband and I were younger, we took part in the Civil Rights marches and marched in the streets. We have to let the younger generations know that what they have now, they haven’t done anything to get. It’s the people who came before that pushed us to where we are now. So what are you going to do for the future?"

Blanche Brown, Haitian Folkoric Dance Teacher and Yoruba Priestess

“Art definitely heals. When I was younger, seeing art that was a reflection of me made me feel good. When art is removed from a community, you can tell its soul is lost. It’s not healing. It’s sad and hurtful. I guess it’s called art gentrification: creating something that just doesn’t fit. It doesn’t help the community. It just continues to perpetuate whatever issue was already there."

Sydney “Sage” Cain, Graphite Visual Artist and Muralist

“You didn’t get here by yourself. Other people paved the way for you. You’re part of a continuum. Honor them and honor yourself. Most importantly, do not collude in your own oppression. We didn’t do all this work for you to fall into the trap. We did it for you to continue to prosper and to do well, And don’t forget that the more you know, the more you owe."

Dr. Joseph Marshall, Jr., Founder of Alive & Free Movement and S.F. Police Commissioner

“Most people’s definition of ‘making it’ is a little different than mine. My definition of making it is being in communication with my people, respecting the ancestors, and being an overall positive person, specifically for Black men and Black people. I try to do things that won’t degrade our culture. But people see me on the street and they think, “Wow! He’s really good. Why is he on the street? He should be on Broadway.” I’ve never been interested in that.

Edward V. Jackson, Sr., Urban Funk Machine, Street Performer and Tap Dancer

Art by William Rhodes


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Dust to dust they intone

Out of clay they say

From earth you came,

and to earth you will return they admonish.

They remind us we are human

and subject to death yet insist on their eternals.

Demons and angels, paradise or purgatory,

merely human with a finite number of days.

But we have exploded as novas.

Burned through countless galaxies,

danced on the edge of asteroids, rode on the tail of comets

Until in a dizzy frenzy of passion, we fell through the viscous ozone

passed cooling clouds to settle on the ocean floor.

It was there that we grew arms and tongue,

all the while remembering our origins.

Calcium, magnesium, iron…

We are the stuff that stars are made of.

It’s a scientific fact, a cosmic truth.

We hold grades of the divine inside ourselves and we always have.


We are stardust.

Devorah Major
San Francisco Poet Laureate

I Am San Francisco Exhbition c. 2016 Jarrel Phillips



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