Category Archives: San Francisco

1001 Black Men #742


I am pleased to say that Thursday’s trip to San Francisco was almost completely unnecessary. I drove over to add some additional adhesive to the art labels for my show at the Writers’ Grotto. I’m pleased to say that all of the labels were still where I placed them, and only a few of them were curling away form the wall. I added some additional tape to those most likely to fall off, and I drove away satisfied with the overall quality of the show.

The trip gave me some peace of mind about my art labeling skills, and it also brought me in contact with a new subject for my series, this guy who I passed on my way back to the car.

Ajuan Mance

1001 Black Men #741



I passed this guy a few weeks ago, at the San Francisco Public Library. I’d gone over to pick up the three pieces of art I’d shown as part of The Black Woman is God exhibit, curated by Karen Seneferu. It was the second incarnation of an exhibit that was at the African American Art and Culture Complex last summer. Like me he was heading toward the African American Center at the library and I watched with a little bit of envy as he disappeared into the stacks near the exhibit area. This is the first summer in a long time that I haven’t had the time to truly immerse myself in my research and writing, and the sight of him turning down a row of books made me wistful for summers past, when I could spend uninterrupted weeks in the UCB library.

Ajuan Mance

1001 Black Men #739


The corner of Jack London Alley and South Park Street.

I’m not one to believe in conspiracy theories or hidden organizations that shape the trajectory of all of our futures. Recently, though, as I’ve gone about my errands on both sides of the Bay, I have noticed what, if I was given to such thoughts, would look an awful lot like a secret network of sentries. They stand on street corners in all kinds of neighborhoods and business districts and keep silent watch over the areas in which they live, neither intervening nor abandoning the rapidly changing communities around them.

It seems that everywhere I’ve gone during the last couple months, there is an older Black man standing on a corner somewhere, not hanging out with friends or waiting to cross the street or even talking to himself. Instead, he’s just staring at the people and the cars who pass by, his expression inscrutable.

They wear full beards and close-cropped haircuts, polo shirts and jeans. Their snow white hair suggests a lifetime of wisdom; their quiet stare suggests neither enthusiasm nor judgment, but simply acceptance.

Ajuan Mance


1001 Black Men #724


This drawing is from a couple weeks ago, before the heat wave and the subsequent cooling. It shows a man I spotted in a bus shelter on my drive to the edge of SOMA. I was in San Francisco to see the exhibit space for a show. The building I was looking for is in the South Park neighborhood, and I got to see the population shift there, firsthand.

It’s been about 10 years since I last drove through that area on a weekday, and it was a lot more lively than I remembered. It was bustling with new (or new-ish) restaurants and shops and galleries, and there were lots and lots of people on the streets. They were going back and forth between the shops and restaurants and the businesses that have come to make this neighborhood their home.

I was witnessing the very phenomenon I’d been reading about and hearing about in the local and national news. I’m not completely certain, but I think I was seeing the aftermath of the gentrification of that area.

I’ve read about and listened many reports on gentrification; but, truth be told, I haven’t spent much time in the areas where it’s gotten the strongest foothold. So, seeing it was kind of exciting, like when you’ve seen a bunch of articles on a famous-but-controversial writer, and then you run into them on the street.

Overall, the South Park neighborhood wasn’t unpleasant. The restaurant where I ate lunch was fun, and the food was pretty good. (It was a restaurant that only sells grilled cheese sandwiches.) The building facades were refurbished with attractive and quirky decor, and the people who dotted the sidewalks seemed excited to be alive and to be with each other. The area was vibrant and full of energy, and if I hadn’t driven through the neighborhood 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have had any idea that South Park had been anything but what I experienced a couple weeks ago.

I suppose that’s one of the issues with the transformation of a neighborhood. When a neighborhood changes, whatever that neighborhood becomes erases any memory of what it might have been (for all but the people who lived there or worked there before).

In the end, neighborhood change is inevitable; and very few of the communities on either side of the Bay bear much resemblance to what they were when they began. As San Francisco, Oakland, and surrounding cities debate the proper place of and responses to gentrification, I find myself wondering whether these conversations are inevitable parts of the never-ending change that takes place in our nation’s cities; or maybe the fluctuations in today’s Bay Area neighborhoods are somehow different than previous shifts.

I also find myself wondering about the role of the area’s not-so-economically-marginalized Black folks and other people of color, especially related to Oakland. What is the role and what are the responsibilities of upwardly-mobile Black people, for example, many of whom flee mixed-class communities the moment their incomes (or their equity) permits. When enough of these departures take place, the former residents leave the more financially vulnerable to face the combined forces of business and the white repatriation of the urban core.

At this point, I have no answers; but I’m starting to feel like my questions sorta kinda amount to answers in and of themselves.

Ajuan Mance




1001 Black Men #721


The Liza Minelli show at Davies Symphony Hall (March 28, 2014) was even more wonderful than I was expecting. Aside from the simple pleasure of sharing space with a singer and actress whose Cabaret and Liza with a Z are among the finest performances I’ve ever seen, there was also the thrill of seeing someone fully and passionately inhabiting her creativity. Liza can no longer hits all of her notes all of the time, nor does she dance as vivaciously as she did even 10 years ago. And yet, despite these limitations, Liza Minelli performs for her audience with the passion of a person who is truly at home on the stage.

The man in this drawing was one of less than five Black people I noticed in the audience. There may well have been as many as 10 of us. I did not, after all, get a good look at the crowd in the balcony. In any event, though, he and I passed each other in the lobby and nodded at each other as only Black folks can.

Ajuan Mance


1001 Black Men 692


Whenever I take BART into San Francisco for a work-related event, I always feel like such a grownup. I grew up on Long Island, and riding the commuter rail from the Island into Manhattan felt to me like to the true marker of adulthood. When I was finally old enough to board the train at Freeport station, take my seat on the train car, open up my copy of the New York Times, and enjoy the ride into my office, then I would know I was a fully-fledged adult.

Alas, I have never had a job that required more than a 5-10 minute commute, and I am very grateful for that; but it also means I’ve never really had the opportunity to be among those people who ride the train into work on a regular basis. Even today, a part of me is still that kid who can’t wait ’til she’s old enough to ride the into the City all by myself. For the guy in this drawing, on the other hand, there didn’t seem to be anything fun or adventurous or novel about BARTing in to the financial district. He was wearing a really cool coat, though.

Ajuan Mance