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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Interesting day, today. Was the luncheon speaker for the monthly meeting of the retirees of Local #790 of SEIU - AFL-CIO.

I am really beginning to enjoy these events -- and am more comfortable these days and less threatened by the limelight. In fact, I jokingly mentioned to Martha (park superintendent) when I got back that I might just take this show on the road and become one of them motivational speakers! Though there's little hope of that, given the enjoyment I'm getting every day just doing the work of the very creative process of park-building. These little special events come as quite incidental -- a phone call from someone with an invitation -- and a little mark on my calendar -- and ... .

Little preparation is required since I'm really only dealing with known history (known by me) and that's so subjective that there's really little reason to do much in advance except relax into it and enjoy.

Today I was struck by how interesting it is that history of 60 years ago has moved into the foreground all around the Bay Area. Among those who attended today was a union official (African American) who is working toward the restoration of the old 16th Street Southern Pacific railway station near Oakland's waterfront. His group is at the early beginnings of the project and their excitement is building. I could see the delight in his face and those of others when I began to cover the historical parts of my little talk -- and I could see that we were connecting.

There were people in that audience who were longtime East Bay residents -- some of whom had arrived during World War II as homefront workers. There were some who had been customers at our little store in South Berkeley and remembered me standing behind the counter learning the business while battling the streets. There was the feeling of homecoming today, and it felt right and good.

I'd brought a small supply of business cards, just in case anyone ... and regretted not having brought more. They were so quickly seized that I had to promise to send a supply for distribution as soon as I returned to my office. And I did just that. Mailed off a copy of "Lost Conversations and Untold Stories" DVD, a few brochures about the park site, with a handful of business cards to be distributed later.

I sensed the hunger for grounding, roots from the past, in that room today. I vowed to add to any future presentation the suggestion that we remove those real boundaries between these nine Bay Area counties that ring the bay and return to those days when the African American community was regional. With that greater pool from which to draw leadership in the old days, we were all enriched. Our community reached from Monterey in the south to Sacramento and Marysville in the north. Our social and cultural events drew from San Jose and San Mateo, San Francisco and Oakland and Richmond. We lost something when those articifial boundaries were imposed for reasons I've never quite understood.

Maybe we can begin to look at that as we rebuild our history and share our stories again. Maybe today was an important beginning of a broadened view of our park building. Maybe black history cannot be told without reuniting all of its elements.

Maybe I'd like to drive into Oakland soon and visit the old 16th Street Southern Pacific railroad station and re-imagine Uncle Herman Allen, Uncle Frederick Allen, Uncle Lloyd Allen (three sons of Papa George), and their other friends and co-workers as they worked that luggage as men of service; proud Red Caps! I remember from childhood how much taller those uncles stood when in uniform ... there's still something about a uniform, isn't there? Any uniform.

So many stories ... and so little time.

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