Greetings charged-up readers!
Trouble in Black Paradise rumbles right along and stirs the nation.
I boarded Muni’s T-Line train at the Castro subway station, headed to San Francisco’s 2016 Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. Celebration. Down in San Jose Cal Train’s annual “Freedom Train” had already departed, headed up the peninsula on an hour long trip to the end of the line here. Locals awaited it at 4th and King St. to begin the march. That’s where I’m headed.
As the “T” broke the surface rounding the embarcadero many participants had boarded. A virtual rainbow collection of all ages crammed into the coach, lots of kids in tow, tons of kids everywhere, most with painted signs expressing their social hopes (and defiant “demands”).
Holding hands across from me a lesbian biracial couple caught my gaze and we smiled. A white family packed in at my left, child in lap, whose periodic shifting often found him kicking me. Affectionately cautioning their young lad we all made eye contact—then smiled.
Exiting at our stop my throng waited for the green light change to cross and join the station’s already quite hefty gathering, when the unexpected shocked me: tears rolled down my face so suddenly and they would not be deterred.
I saw no others exhibiting what I openly wrestled with—let alone grown men. But absorbing the sight of this assemblage, masses ready to go (immersed fervently in the cause of humanity “connection”) generations passing along the action (freshly maintaining the Civil Rights Legacy’s inheritance chain) I knew the source of my spilling river:
Affirmation from my parents linking that chain screamed! Influences of my own deep, long investment in aiding so many (centering concentration in the most bleak, neglected corners) found results tenaciously surviving—a toehold literally blossoming before my very eyes.
I wiped and dabbed, but surrendered to the flow that would last all the way to Yerba Buena Gardens, peppering much of my event experience there.
Setting out towards the front I looked back to capture scenes of what had to be thousands marching behind me. My river streamed a little stronger. Up front with the “SF Interfaith Council” banner (the event’s sponsor) and “Officers For Justice Peace Officers Association” (SF’s Black police support group) is where I settled.
Black officers on megaphones led us in song: “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around…I’m gonna keep on a walking, keep on a talking, knocking on freedom’s door”…”we shall we shall we shall not be moved…just like a tree that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved!”
En route we crossed Lefty O’Doul’s Bridge at the Giant’s AT&T Park, commemorating Selma to Montgomery’s notorious Edmund Pettus Bridge event, then paused at Willie Mays Plaza. My gaze caught sight of the lesbian couple from my train, still hand-in-hand, and I smiled. Soon we filed into Yerba Buena’s Esplanade for the ceremony and subsequent programs.
Powerful is the word for what unfolded in the spirit of tradition. Vocalist Noah Griffin lead all with select classic protest verses—we sang between stinging excerpts of Dr. King’s speeches, read by various social reps. I took deep breaths through the stinging at the corners of my eyes.
In other remarks at times LGBTQ advancement was included in the collective struggle, a testament to just how much ground has been gained in this critical setting—at least here. Interestingly two openly gay white elected officials also sat on that stage: SF Supervisor Scott Wiener and CA Senator Mark Leno.
Of SF’s multitude of white mainstream (or general) gay groups I’d not seen one representative banner along the way, banners that flood SF’s gay pride parade hours on end, yet I knew individuals were of course here. Wiener and Leno were introduced as rep “officials” (not that I recall as being “openly gay”). Would they address this crowd, or just be images of officialdom propped on stage?
I’ve met Supervisor Wiener on several occasions and he’s been very engaging. Recognizing me on the street I’m always acknowledged. His moderate to mainstream politics though, angers many progressives.
I first met Senator Leno through a friend while on Castro St. He was polite, but politely distant. Later, while I co hosted Classic Soul Thursday Nights at The Edge with John Webber, attempting to maintain a Black gay culture niche (which now basically has vanished in the Castro) Leno attended to present a proclamation recognizing Black activist Castro efforts. He did not utilize the opportunity there to become more familiar with my leadership legacy—a thing that stands out to me, being curious about which white leaders step out from the standard pack (especially given my flaring Afro-centricity which keeps certain whites at bay).
I’ve never seen either of them in this, a mainstream Black community setting, thickened by rainbow progressives and radicals honoring Black led leadership. I’d hoped both would especially have speaking opportunities, curious to hear their own connecting approach (in this climate thick with Black Lives Matter supporters) and if gay rights movement ties would be made to Black liberation.
Neither of them spoke, so I’ll obviously still be waiting.
I didn’t have to wait long though for another address, one made hugely controversial. Spotlighted is this major SF official’s lack of action regarding a shooting incident and seemingly turning his back on racist and homophobic police force “interactions.”
I raised an eye upon seeing that Mayor Ed Lee would be the final speaker and cringed when he was announced. Polite but restrained applause sprinkled from the audience with his introduction. Lee was barely into his second sentence when out came a major eruption.
Trumpeting from the darkness at rear came overpowering shouts: “Justice for Mario Woods!…Justice for Mario Woods!” An emerging entourage of young men from the “Justice for Mario Woods Coalition” stepped forward, taking over the airwaves, shouting down Lee—all gathering right over my shoulder.
A recent blog of mine addressed the SF Mario Woods incident and protester’s demands were the same: “Fire Police Chief Greg Suhr! Arrest and charge the five officers with murder!”
The protesters (who with others drowned out Lee’s recent mayoral inauguration) admitted they had disrupted him that morning at an MLK breakfast and said they would hound his appearances relentlessly unless he agreed to meet with them—only then would they stop. Audience support for the demands was strong and finally, having substantially absorbed the shouted message, Lee slipped through the wings off the stage.
Thus, this portion of the events was concluded.
Regrouping in a lobby bustling with folks (who also still processed the crackle of what we all just witnessed) someone called out my name. It was Bill, a white gay friend who had just arrived. What a joy to see his handsomely spirited face, enthusiasm and focus complimenting an already amazing day.
Bill and two friends would be attending the next segment that I waited for: a panel discussion with two foundering members of the Black Panther Party, Elaine Brown and Professor Melvin Newton of Oakland’s Merritt College (older brother of Huey P. Newton who co founded the Party in 1966 with Bobby Seale). And a pleasant surprise: I’d seen one of Bill’s friends during breakfast at a Castro restaurant before heading to the march—you just never know!
The panel discussion was riveting, linking the unbroken dots between pre and post Civil Rights conditions with issues today. Shared were many personal stories: critical Panther programs offering a disenfranchised community food, clothing and alternative education opportunity; wrenching tales of youth dying in shootouts with police.
One notable “audience question” moment addressed a 17yearold Black male’s concern: He’s co organizing a Black youth action group and fears that much social commentary by veterans tends to leave youth out. Brown’s response that, “we weren’t always old, we were young too!” brought down the house.
Many of the young men killed during early organizing were his age. She reminded him that he’s an “endangered species.” As youth it’s his turn to pick up the mantle [as has youth-driven Black Lives Matter] and “I support you wholeheartedly.”
Back in the Castro headed home, no photos, posters or banners for the occasion hung anywhere in sight here. Yet, something pleasantly tweaked, then kind of jolted my senses. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. vibrancy of spirit threaded the air. Most acquaintances (even strangers encountering me) were white and unhesitant with salutation to get my reply—happy MLK day!
Given this stir (with “non promotional” momentum) I couldn’t help but think how gay mainstream administrators in their indifference, squander such a priceless opportunity. If it’s to move solidly ahead the community is in desperate need of this: being infused with the living, breathing tapestry of a rich Civil Rights legacy—up close and in person.
One huge reward (which can’t be overemphasized) is an instilling in white LGBTQ folk of their solid place on the fight-for-equality “spectrum” stage.
An astounding climate filled Yerba Buena’s theatre; diverse multitudes rallying together, evoking the deeper aspects of ourselves to actually engage one another (next to you, hold that stranger’s hand) the shared stories (enlightening us to each other) that have us laughing, crying and singing together—the living, breathing tapestry in action, united challenging injustice.
It’s the total contrast to a current gay mainstream climate of protest, highly limited to gay rights issues, flooded by majority white gays focused on themselves—who go back to social settings dominated by whites, comfortably disconnected from “others” (white folks expecting the benefits made possible by those “others,” while strangely not wanting to see themselves as being under attack).
The “movement” tells us leadership holds the responsibility itself to show vision (as does every media outlet and institution pushing to advance constituents whom they know are under attack). Making clarity of legacy connection a priority (with stepping outside white comfort zones) is missing as a persistent action “campaign.”
Leno and Wiener had the opportunity to nurture the gay liberation/Black justice “solidarity building” on that stage—reinforcing for those present (in their example) that white gays can step outside of self-absorbed white privilege, actually empathize with “others” and appreciate the benefit of what spectrum predecessors have sown.
The lawmakers could have shared stories of white gay activists pioneering the push to strengthen Civil Rights Movement ties (such as Harry Hay) which must make it to that stage. Both the Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas political clubs bare those advocate’s names for a reason—that room should be hearing about who they are.
SF’s Gay Men’s Chorus performed in the line-up, getting the audience’s hefty applause, but bringing the “message” to light must move beyond mere entertainment—especially since the door has creaked open and an insider place (within the space there) awaits cultivation by white gay relevance.
Here, the broader minority justice coalition would see that white gay leaders are willing to initiate this “lead”—thus more would join gay hands. It’s an investment definitely and it must be made.
In the same respect stories reminding all of invaluable Black gay Civil Rights contributions must begin their reverberation—instigated by Black gay leadership (who should have also been on that stage).
One political group, the Bayard Rustin Democratic Club, features the name of Dr. King’s most strategic resource organizer—tactics of successful nonviolent resistance and the 1963 March On Washington’s triumphant depth (for starters) was due to unapologetically gay Rustin.
The club’s banner (along with Milk’s and Toklas’) waving in the march and gracing that room would have been powerful imagery.
I don’t know if Leno and Wiener actually pushed to speak (which they should have) and were turned down, or just settled for being present as “officials.” I do know that the consequence of indifference ushering down gay lines shows an insidiously expanding damage.
The example—of which you’ll see in my next blog entry—will be shocking!
Meanwhile what I walked away with, leaving that gathering, will keep me inspirationally heady for a long time.