Celebrating Black History Month

This week in Getting the Job Done, I’d like to thank my colleague, Board President Supervisor Horsley, for hosting a year-long speaker series celebrating Black History.

Over the course of the year, at nearly every Board Meeting, we had the pleasure of hearing from African American residents of San Mateo County. For those in attendance, and for those watching from afar, it was a wonderful opportunity to take a moment and celebrate Black History and the remarkable contributions that African Americans have made and continue to make in our community.

As San Mateo County’s former chief Deputy County Counsel, Lee Thompson, stated in his talk: “Black History matters because Black History and American History are one and the same.”

It is critical that we listen to one another and hear diverse perspectives, and I am very grateful to all the speakers for sharing their stories and reflections. Thanks again to all the speakers, and to Supervisor Horsley. Here’s just a snapshot of the outstanding stories we heard:

- Former San Mateo Mayor Claire Mack shared memories of her family and talked about her deep roots in San Mateo County, dating back to 1913.

- Bob Hoover, a fixture in the City of East Palo Alto, spoke about growing up in the South in the 1930’s. He asked for people to try and better understand the struggles that people of color have endured just to be a part of society, citing baseball player Jackie Robinson and the true story of the women behind the movie “Hidden Figures.”

- We heard from representatives from the San Mateo Health Department who discussed initiatives to improve African American maternal and infant health. Marisha Bank, one of the first participants in San Mateo County’s 25-year old Prenatal Advantage Black Infant Health Project, shared her story about being pregnant with her now 24-year-old daughter, Marie Williams.

- Pastor Paul Bains, the founder of Project WeHOPE, talked about growing up in East Palo Alto with his seven siblings. He thanked his father for instilling an entrepreneurial spirit in his children, and teaching his children to give back. Pastor Bains went on to found Project WeHOPE in 1999 to connect homeless individuals and families and those at risk to resources, and help them rebuild their lives.

- Former San Mateo County Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson spoke about her family’s migration from Louisiana to the Bay Area after World War II. Her family eventually settled in East Palo Alto, which was one of the only options for African Americans seeking home ownership.

- Ms. Gloria Brown and Ms. Lisa Tealer from the African American Community Health Advisory Committee (AACHAC) discussed the accomplishments of the 25-year old Committee to eliminate health disparities in communities of color. Among the many services provided by AACHAC are mammogram screenings for women, and holding a Men’s Health Symposium on issues related to prostate cancer and heart diseases.

- Co-Chairs of the African American Community Initiative (AACI), Tennille Tucker and Talisha Racy, talked about the work that AACI does to advocate for equity and mental health awareness in the African American community. AACI, which was founded in 2007, hosts and participates in many events. One more recent event, called “Urgency of Now” was held during Mental Health Awareness Month (May). The packed training was geared toward mental health care providers and focused on the importance of developing best practices around engaging with African American clients and families, and recognizing the implicit bias that exists in the field. This is just one of the very cool projects that AACI is involved in!

- Dr. Faye McNair Knox, an East Palo Alto resident and Executive Director of One East Palo Alto (OEPA) spoke about the need for bold ideas to bring community together through mutual understanding and the truth of equality. Throughout her career, Dr. Faye has focused on the youth of East Palo Alto; she helps youth develop skills, helps families build resilience, and helps teachers improve their teaching techniques.

- Dr. Vincent Mason, a Palo Alto Medical Foundation pediatrician recalled growing up in Phoenix City, Alabama and the strong mentors in his life, including his parents and grandparents, who taught him not to be a victim, to stand tall, and that he could be a doctor.

- Lee Thompson, former Chief Deputy Counsel talked about why having open and honest conversations about race are so crucial. Despite his success as a lawyer, Lee said that he still feels judged every day for his skin color. One prompt he offered for people to have an honest conversation about race was by asking this question: If a wizard offered you a choice to live another two years as a white American or another 20-30 years as a black American, which would you choose and why?

- San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Leland Davis spoke about his experience as a freshman at Stanford when he was pulled over by campus police and had to prove that was a student at the University. This incident stayed with Judge Davis, and influences his work in the courtroom where “justice is blind.”    

- The final speaker in the Black History Year series, Julia Page, shared her insights about growing up “a sharecropper’s granddaughter” in Ohio. She talked about her tight-knit family and her accomplished career with NBC News, Columbia Pictures, former First Lady Maria Shriver and now her current role at YouTube. As the mother of 4-year old triplets, Julia hopes to instill in them the wisdom of her father: “It doesn’t matter what others think of you, it only matters what you think of yourself.”