I haven't always been a 59 year old mayoral candidate who's rebuilt his home, been married to his law school sweetheart for 23 years, and produced an 18 year old tennis-playing son headed to college. I've only been the man of these things since April, but it's been a long time coming.
One spring day during the weeks between the Supreme Court ruling that race-based inequality in education was illegal, and a neighborhood kid, Emmett Till, was being lynched, I entered this world on a kitchen table deep in the south side of Chicago. Until I joined the Navy at 18, I lived – and several times nearly died – in a city full of new opportunity and historical barriers to every opportunity.
It was that tumultuous backdrop, of history and hope, which spurred my parents to try and produce income and nurture us through school. I was reading the bible at 3, and skipped grades until graduating 8th grade a few weeks after my 12th birthday; I learned as if it were my duty to take advantage of my freedom. But my mother succumbed early on to medical problems, and our family had to work around that big hole in our heart. As the effective on-scene head of household, I juggled cooking & cleaning with my paper route and other part-time jobs, while embroiling myself in society’s struggles, and leading the once-divided student groups at Calumet High School to unite and change the school administration.
Because of my political activities, like Moses, I was not allowed to enter the Promised Land; instead, I was sent to reform school. But before checking in, or getting reformed, I taught myself for a year by daily all-day visits to museums and libraries. Later, the authorities further commanded my attendance, and while there, a committee of young leftist doctors at Cook County Hospital got me a scholarship to an alternative school in Chicago’s financial district. It was in tune with my maturation, as my idols had long included Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X, John Brown, and Booker T. Washington. Jimi Hendrix soon led the pack.
During my teen years I learned about and experienced racial hatred, anti-Semitism, religious discrimination. And I had important experiences with police. For a while, it seemed that most of the leaders I embraced were engaged in war with them, and I saw such carnage in Chicago. At different times, I was surveilled, slapped, shot at, treated fairly, helped and befriended by police. I survived the hate, fear and anger of those times, and learned from it, to know them as human beings sworn to protect the public and uphold the law.
When my high school friends graduated and enrolled in community colleges, I enrolled with them, even though I was barely 16 and not quite eligible. I carried a full load for 2 years while working as a bike messenger and at other jobs and businesses I created until I turned 18 and joined the Navy to be an electronics technician. After nearly 2 years in San Diego and at Treasure Island, I was stationed in Hawaii for 5 years where I indulged my interest in health, happiness, and meditation. I was Honorably Discharged after 7 years of service in 1980.
I moved back to the bay area in 1981, living primarily in San Anselmo and San Francisco, until moving to Berkeley in 1992 and Oakland in 1994. Along the way I was a technician for the phone company, drove a cab, graduated from San Francisco Renaissance Entrepreneurship Training, Golden Gate University, and San Francisco Law School, and got married for keeps. I've been working full-time as a technician in Berkeley since 1996, and the rest of the time as an self-employed attorney.
We’ve lived in this home – the only one we have and the one we brought our baby home to – since 1994. But it’s been hard from the beginning. Because I’m not a person who can just sit down or meekly complain when I see a problem that must be fixed, and also due to the ineptness of many Oakland officials, I had to risk my own neck and spend my own money to do what’s right. I had to sue our city repeatedly to stop them from removing traffic safety devices and to repair them after the city consciously let them deteriorate just to appease some misguided protesters. I’ve had to suffer bullets striking my home and cars after reporting crime and dissuading criminal activity. A chunk of concrete was hurled through my front window. Thugs have repeatedly threatened and attacked me in meetings, on the street, and at my home -- notably from 2002 through 2007. I've had to fight for my life while working towards peace for our community.
Besides the battles on the home front, I’ve lead other righteous struggles. As a 10-year union steward for my fellow IBEW-represented employees at the City of Berkeley, I obtained strike sanction from the Alameda Labor Council and then led a successful labor action. When several Catholic elementary schools suddenly closed in 2004, I championed the cause of those unhappy with the decision. Those events ended well and I remain close to the organizations. I’ve had help at times, but whether alone or in good company, I’ve always been in the leadership of problem solving and making peace.
After losing the 2008 election for city council, in September, 2008 I began reconstructing our home. I’m still completing a little trim and finish work, and the landscape is rugged, but the major construction is all done and I’m happy that I did much of it myself. As the project came to a close, I seized the time and filed my candidacy for Mayor in 2013, without consulting political consultants.