SF Urban Film Fest
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SF Urban Film Fest

Building Black Intergenerational Wealth

How Young Community Developers Built a Coalition for Action Using Film

Workshop participant, Maria Judice, presenting her group's proposal. Photo by Shantre Pinkney

At its core, this is a story about building generational wealth, power, and agency for the Black community in San Francisco.

Where do white papers go? Not unlike a resolution passed behind closed chamber doors (res·o·lu·tion noun. implying an unstoppable path to realization) white papers unfollowed by appropriate action mean little to anyone. Convening around a small table at the Young Community Developers (YCD) office, a seemingly eclectic group of people considered just this — how might they organize YCD’s network around a white paper addressing housing needs in the Bayview? Fay Darmawi, the SF Urban Film Fest’s (SFUFF) Executive Director and Founder who authored the white paper, was joined by YCD Executive Director Dion-Jay (DJ) Brookter, YCD Director of Housing and Anti-Displacement Divali Magnus, local filmmaker Shantre Pinkney, and Bay Area Video Coalition Advanced Training Manager Keith Battle.

An idea emerged of cultivating a new power in the Bayview centered around assets they already had within their community. At the time, SFUFF had been prototyping storytelling workshops with local government agencies, where groups created videos to build and strengthen city planning campaigns. Those at the crowded office table wondered if they could reach community leaders with a similar approach. Indeed, community-based storytelling had proved successful for YCD in the past; the San Francisco Police Department actually uses a film they co-produced, Chop Shop, to train officers on how to engage more mindfully with communities of color. And so began our storytelling experiment with YCD, which culminated in the video below, now featured prominently on the home page of their website.

Most urban planning takes a top-down approach. One of our core goals at the SFUFF is figuring out how to turn that process on its head — how might we let the community, with its wealth of individual contexts and lived experience, have control over the planning ideation to begin with? We see storytelling as a democratic way to achieve this. Sharing stories contextualizes the past, present, and future of urban issues while connecting with people emotionally, meeting them in this age of the endless sensorium.

Settled on a shared goal, we first gathered community members for a kickoff film screening of Dimitri Moore’s Point of Pride and discussion focused on the struggle for stable housing in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point area. Then we convened the storytelling workshop itself, a 3-hour session including a diverse group of community stakeholders, YCD staff, and local storytellers. Keith guided the group through the foundations of good storytelling: story, audience, message, and style (or SAMS). The local storytellers lead small groups in story ideation around the stated goal. At the end of the workshop, the groups presented three distinct themes:

Legacy, acknowledging family and community members who have struggled to acquire and keep a home in the Bayview, and how that home serves as the base for nurturing future generations;

Homecoming, imagining a glorious, celebrated return to the Bayview from the suburban diaspora; and

Knowledge, a passing down of practical information on how to be (and stay) a homeowner.

Workshop participants in their respective groups brainstorming themes.

Read more about the storytelling workshop process in a 2019 SFUFF article here.

The final stage of our storytelling program is distilling themes and ideas from the storytelling workshop and creating something to show for it. We had the honor of partnering with Shantre, who connects deeply with the Bayview, a district where she has lived and created artwork over the years. As her family comes from the mid-Atlantic Coast and the South, she also connects to the story of the Great Migration — which led so many Black folks to San Francisco. Shantre’s film represents the voice of the Bayview and proves how crucial it is to hire artists from the community in which a project is located. In her own words, Shantre described for us how she approached this project, where the personal is inevitably political.

It’s been said that 2020 is the year of demarcation. You can pinpoint who you were before 2020 and who you are now. It’s fair to say for all of us, we’ve had radical adjustments in our lives, be it financially or physically, and have had to discover, if at all possible, how to connect without physically connecting. During these conditions, we’ve had to reimagine how we communicate with one another.

As devastating as the pandemic is, it deeply connected us all. It’s highlighted to the world the tragedies that Black communities were already keen to; significant health disparities, economic inequality, and systemic racism. I couldn’t help but think of all the friends, neighbors, elders, and coworkers I’ve been privileged to live and work with in Bayview and decided the safest choice in light of the pandemic was to write a voice-over script.

The script begins with the story of the Great Migration when Black families sought work during the 2nd World War. From there, I looked through historical records to guide the viewer through decades of life in Bayview. Next, I created a visual story to accompany the script. Interweaving archival with more recent footage blended these generations as one cohesive voice. There were countless photos I had stored on a hard drive of street festivals, restaurant grand openings, and performances by the Bayview Opera House. Images of events that were now on pause, but full of faces we hadn’t seen in a while — various generations who YCD was now occupied with serving. Finally, we were able to bring a story together, a collective voice with a focus on the issues facing YCD and the Bayview community they serve today. I was pleased to learn that YCD placed the video front and center on the landing page of their new website as a call to action for all of San Francisco to pay attention to the needed reset that 2020 calls for.

During this project, I was thinking of an old friend that lived up the hill, just overlooking part of the Indian Basin. She would talk about the fight for her grandmother’s home and how her neighborhood, even with its challenges is, “an absolute goldmine”. My sincere hope is that every piece of that goldmine (rights to health, land, and financial liberty) is restored to those who put their blood, sweat, and tears into it.

The campaign to galvanize 100 Black property owners continues. YCD recently convened a breakfast meeting around Shantre’s film, pitching a proposed project intended to house Black teachers in the Bayview. At its core, this is a story about building generational wealth, power, and agency for the Black community in San Francisco. A storytelling workshop simply gives the community tools to express how they want those things to look and feel and, specifically, to imagine for themselves how stable housing fits into that future.

The work between YCD and SFUFF on storytelling workshops and community-generated themes will inform an upcoming street activation project in the Bayview focusing on the legacy of everyday heroes who fought for housing and created joy for the Black community. This project will be produced as part of SFUFF’s Residency at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). Join our newsletter below for updates.

If you’d like to learn more about how our storytelling journey can help your organization galvanize the community that you serve, please contact us at sfurbanfilmfest@gmail.com.

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