California arrival day

Friday was a personal milestone. May 14, 1987 was the day I first moved to California.
That morning, I caught a flight in Richmond, Virginia, where I had spent most of the previous ten years. By late afternoon, I was being introduced as the new editor of the San Jose Business Journal during its fifth anniversary party.
The promise was such that I had, on two weeks notice, left the Jackson Ward neighborhood which we had labored to preserve as an historic black business district and moved a continent away from my immediate family.
In Richmond, I lived a few doors down from the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site and adjacent to the Bojangles Robinson statue. My office at the Richmond AFRO-AMERICAN, the oldest black newspaper in the country, was an Historic Site in Journalism.
My neighbors had elected me president of the Jackson Ward Project Area Committee, where we pushed such projects as Abner Clay Park and the Virginia Black History Museum.
Friday was a day that reminded me why I did it. Meeting Fred Jordan in his downtown San Francisco office, we discussed the plans for the August 2010 National Black Business Month. Soon a photographer from Black Enterprise arrived for a photo shoot for their upcoming story on the observance. As we discussed backdrops, I suggested Leidesdorff Street.
The photographer looked quizzical — Leidesdorff Street? she asked.
After spending 20 years writing and speaking about California’s African-American heritage, I could be forgiven for thinking everyone would know who William Alexander Leidesdorff was.
For better or worse, I’ve just scratched the surface.
Once she heard that he was the first African-American millionaire, founder of public education in California and the first black American diplomat, she said that’s where we need to go.
By then, I was in full motion. “You know, the first black bank in American history was also on the corner of Leidesdorff and California.” Even Fred, who’s been a friend and supporter for two decades, cocked his head on that one.
By then, I was rattling on about Henry M. Collins and how he opened the bank in 1857. Fred noted, “That was even before the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Once we all arrived at Leidesdorff Street, I showed the strategic location of the street, a half block from Montgomery and the first street built on landfill as the San Francisco Bay was filled in after the Gold Rush.
Just up the hill were the black-owned night clubs of the Barbary Coast, the setting for my new novel, Cakewalk.
And even further up the hill was the Room of the Dons, site of the Queen Calafia murals, depicting the black woman and her warriors who gave California its name.
The poor photog was lamenting that she’d only been assigned to take one vertical shot.
There had been no inkling that black heritage would play such a dominant role when I set off for California. Two things were notable about San Jose when I arrived on May 14. It took about 10 days before I ran across another black person, a major shock after the predominately black Richmond; and the 150 days that ensued before it rained.
My eye had been on the chance to be the top journalist chronicling the global future through the innovations of Silicon Valley.
Unexpectedly, I’ve had the opportunity to merge both strands by chronicling the Freedom Riders of the Cutting Edge. Although I didn’t know where to look, folks like Roy Clay Sr. and the late Dr. Frank Greene and John Douglas and Jan Hutchins and Bill and Loretta Green found me as soon as my picture appeared on the editorial page of the Business Journal.
After Friday’s photo shoot, I went to work on creating the next generation of innovators, the first implementation of the proprietary Learning Garage(TM) school design that I first developed while taking the Stanford School Redesign Network in 2002. Seven years later, we are working with the Potrero Hill Family Resource Center and the Economic Opportunities Council of San Francisco to show youth from Potrero Hill how to prepare for the biotechnology careers surrounding them in Mission Bay, the global hub of health research.
Then I popped in Marcus Books, the oldest black bookstore in the nation, for one of my always stimulating conversations with Karen Johnson. She was debating the impact of Mao Tse-Tung with a Falun Gong adherent when I rescued her. I had news to share with her about my discussions on film rights for Cakewalk while recently in Hollywood.
One of the things I intuitively felt about the Bay Area was that it was a hub of spiritual energy. Next I launched into a discussion of the difference between spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit with Rev. Regnaldo Woods, the dynamic founder of the Up From Darkness Transitional Housing and Education Program Inc.
While in Richmond, I was ordained as a Presbyterian elder at First United Presbyterian Church, like my father and grandfathers before me. That faith foundation was at the heart of the decision to uproot myself.
Although I thought I knew what to expect in California, I really had no idea what would ensue.
However, my spiritual anchor let me explore the faith journey. If one knows what will happen, then it isn’t faith.
My Friday faith journey ended with a great dinner at Sheba Piano Lounge, which unbeknowst to me had been featured in the San Francisco Examiner that morning. One of the things I most like about the place is that the owner incorporated a likeness of the earliest Coptic Christian monastery into the wall that faces the front door. I toasted with Ethiopian honey wine.
In writing novels, I believe that every character is an idea. I also feel that every person in real life also represents a divine thought. To the extent I can guess about what I represent, arriving in California 23 years ago seems like a faith testimony.
Whenever one faces a big change, it can actually turn out to be an affirmation of what one fears losing. If you don’t have faith, you’ll never find out.
Of course, faith without works is dead. So being a Presbyterian elder is about more than contemplation. At 5 a.m. this morning, I was off to lead the Harvest pantry for 250 folks at my church, St. John’s Presbyterian in San Francisco.
Then I headed to Potrero Hill for its health and wellness fair before hitting the Bay to Breakers expo.
Hey, it’s 24 hours in California!

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