To the average passerby, the Tenderloin may appear to be a bit…grimy, to say the least. San Francisco seems darker here. The sidewalks are covered in trash, with unmentionable and undesirable items scattered about that visitors tend to tiptoe, dodge or leap across to avoid. Some visitors simply avoid the Tenderloin altogether.
But not to Del Seymour. One could call Del the ‘Mayor’ of the Tenderloin. He sees beyond the intimidating, at times frightening first impression given off by the very center of our city. He knows the heart of the community, the drive of the workers, and the love of the families. He sees the history and richness of the Tenderloin, and reveals these hidden truths on his “Tenderloin Walking Tours.” This venture is a labor of love, and one he is eager to share. To join him on a stroll down the street is to witness a special vision captured by someone who truly loves their neighborhood and wants to see it not only survive, but thrive.
While Del continues to teach through his walking tours, he has also started his own one- man crusade to improve his district: he is currently working with local start-up tech companies to give women who have fallen down a path towards drug dealing the skills to interview and work in legitimate sectors. In a speech in front of Ted X, he challenged companies to contribute to a solution by training and ultimately hiring these women for entry-level positions. Del wants create a system that guides struggling mothers into job interviews rather than jail cells.
Del is not alone. A few blocks away from where he begins his tours you can often find Amos Gregory, the founder of the San Francisco Veteran’s Mural Project, in Shannon Alley. Amos’ passion and enthusiasm are contagious. He, like Del, is well aware of the bad reputation that residents of the Tenderloin, including its war veterans, have been given by outside observers. He has created this project as a healing mechanism for these locals. For the past four years, he has invited community members affected by war and violence, be it on foreign lands or within the city itself, to paint the walls along this street, thus giving a voice to the voiceless. He believes in empowering the participants by giving them ownership over their stories and control over the telling.
While this has been an organic process, Amos has introduced a level of discipline whereby the participants plan out their pieces and therefore receive help and support from fellow artists and community members, enhancing the therapeutic aspect of the ever-growing mural. The alley itself physically connects the “TenderNob” to the “L’s”, and is a reflection of the diversity (and evolution) of that neighborhood. He wants the messages to go “viral”: beginning on the North end, paintings depict a more classic and commercial protest to the treatment of veterans. The messages work their way southward, telling the stories of those lost and forgotten. Amos has expanded his project to Puerto Rico and to Mexico, and he and the community are creating a community center in the TL, which will include audio/visual labs and a veteran’s community garden. The community center will be the second point of presence, including the alley, for their project.
Another proponent for green space, Stephanie Goodson, is a resident of San Francisco’s Mission Bay area, and was told by her apartment complex that she could not have a garden on the premises. She decided to approach the city with the goal of building a community garden in one of the many underutilized lots in her neighborhood. Because these empty lots may get developed in the future, she found a solution by creating NOMADgardens, San Francisco’s first mobile community garden that launched this past year. According to Miche, the garden’s coordinator/organizer, each member pays a yearly fee for one metal container that sits on a pallet that they can use however they see fit. The members grow everything from strawberries and tomatoes to succulents and roses. Most live nearby, however members can be found all over San Francisco supporting this new project. Not only can groups or individuals grow their own food or flowers, this garden is also used as an opportunity to learn about farming and vegetation in the microclimate of San Francisco. When contractors are ready to build on the land, the garden can be moved to another part of the neighborhood. This flexibility allows for development, while maintaining a bountiful and educational garden that the community is committed to.
It’s Your District, a new organization currently registering members in District 6, is helping to empower and promote collaboration between these existing and blossoming community organizations. One goal of IYD is to support the missions and accomplishments of these homegrown community activists, by facilitating connections between them. IYD can help get Del’s powerful messages out to the public. We can contribute to planning and fundraising for Veteran’s Alley, as well as garner support toward the renaming of Shannon Alley to Veteran’s Alley. Amos is able to link with Stephanie to help with his next project in creating a veteran’s garden. These are just a few examples of participating organizations and ways their missions overlap. Members of IYD can offer resources and support to one another in countless forms, strengthening organizations, their solutions, and the community as a whole.
Yves-Langston Barthaud is the founder of It’s Your District, and has been working closely with organizations and residents of District 6 for the last 2 years. Born and raised in San Francisco, Yves-Langston attended the University of San Francisco where he earned a Bachelor’s in Global Politics and Societies.
Elizabeth De Nola was born and raised in San Francisco. She studied politics as an undergrad in Santa Cruz, and completed her Masters in business administration with a concentration on non-profit management at Mills College in Oakland, CA. After many years of working with non profits in the Bay Area and a couple of years living in the South of France, she has returned to her hometown and is working with Yves-Langston on the exciting project of It’s Your District.