Saturday, November 17, 2007

An Historic Gathering

It's like our Bayview Footprints partners - the Neighborhood History Preservation Project - always say: History is Happening!

It sure was happening Thursday afternoon at the Southeast Community Facility when the new mural by artist Santie Huckaby - featuring the community members who organized tirelessly to make the Community Facility happen - was unveiled. The mural was made possible by Think Round's Heidi Hardin (also a Bayview Footprints partner), SECF Executive Director Dr. Toye Moses, and numerous funding and supporting partners.

Thursday's event was part mural dedication, and part over-due expression of gratitude to the some of the prime movers and shakers who dedicated their lives to our community: Espanola Jackson, Harold Madison, Eloise Westbrook (pictured above), Ethel Garlington, Shirley Jones, and Alex Pitcher. It was also part "family reunion," as many longtime community members and their families came out, some not having seen one another for a long time.

Eloise Westbrook, who was acknowledged as "The Queen," thanked God for being able to attend. She was wheeled to her place of honor by her caretaker, and then smiled warmly and quietly until she took the microphone and showed the audience gathered the spirit that built buildings and "community."

Like the other founders, she was pleased to be acknowledged for past achievement. But she seemed more concerned about current events, and cautioned the audience to better care for the community's youth, to insist on African Americans in leadership positions with the Public Utilities Commission, and to urge deeper involvement on the part of clergy.

It was truly an historic gathering - both for showcasing the past and for creating a memorable occassion that blazes a new path. Congratulations and "thank you!" to the honorees, Santie, Heidi, Toye, and all those who made the SECF and Thursday's gathering possible.

Here is the program text entitled "A Brief History of the Southeast Community Facility and Commission":

San Francisco city officials proposed expanding the Southeast Sewage Treatment plant in the early 1970s. The neighborhood was opposed to the expansion, arguing that the Southeast section of the City had become a dumping ground for the facilities that other neighborhoods had rejected. City Officials, led by then Supervisor Quentin Kopp, then proposed to “give” the community a football field on top of the proposed underground facility. The community rejected the offer because it was both inadequate as compensation for a sewage treatment plant and because residents knew that the facility would never be built underground. They were right. It was later determined that the plant would have to rise at least four stories and residents would have to take an elevator to get to the field! Shafter Avenue Community Club president Harold Madison and Art Agnos made the first donations to establish a community fund to fight the sewage treatment plant expansion.

As the community waged its battle against the sewage plant, meeting in the basement of Providence Baptist Church on a monthly basis for several years, they were eventually joined in their battle by then-Congressman Phillip Burton. Members of the community joined with Congressman Burton to develop a plan for a mitigation facility that would provide jobs, economic development and educational opportunities. Congressman Burton eventually authored an amendment to the Clean Water Act that required development of the Southeast Mitigation Facility—the first time in the nation’s history that Clean Water Act funds could be used to compensate a neighborhood for expansion of a sewage facility.

Community leaders who are depicted in the mural—Espanola Jackson, Harold Madison, Eloise Westbrook, Ethyl Garlington, Shirley Jones and Alex Pitcher—worked with Congressman Burton, then-Assemblyman Art Agnos, Roger Boas, SF's Chief Administrative Officer and architect Jim Jefferson to build the facility for education, business development, jobs and meeting space in the community. The operation of the SECF is intended to further the gainful employment of residents in the BFHP community; create opportunities for them to participate in educational programs; establish and expand opportunities for children’s daycare; and provide information and resources for the enhancement and growth of the community as a whole.

After a fifteen year fight, the Southeast Community Facility was built and a commission was established in 1987 by ordinance of the SF Board of Supervisors, an event made possible with the help of the Speaker of the State Assembly Willie Brown and Assemblyman Agnos working with Congressman Burton. Once he became Mayor, Art Agnos appointed the first Commissioners and, to date, twenty-five individual have served under the leadership of the various Mayors since that time. The purpose of the Commission is to review and provide guidance regarding the operations of the SECF and the other facilities under its jurisdiction. As well, the commission is the ensure that the community continues to benefit in a positive way from the mitigation facility.

The goal of the Commission is to promote and advocate special services for the improvement of the general economic, health, safety and welfare of residents in the southeastern sector of the City. The SECF Commission continues to maintain good relations with it residents, community groups, government officials and other neighborhoods in the City. The Southeast Community Facilities complex is a monument to community activism in the Bayview Hunters Point community and to the tenacity of residents who refused to take “no” for an answer when they knew that their cause was just.

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