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Dorris Vincent presents SFHDC Power of Words award to Ratcliffs

June 2, 2018

by Dorris Vincent

Introduction: The most elegant event we’ve ever attended was the San Francisco Housing Development Corp.’s 30th Anniversary Gala at the wondrous California Academy of Sciences – yes, guests could see the exhibits! – on Friday, May 11. We, Dr. Willlie and Mary Ratcliff, were invited to accept the Power of Words award, and we were thrilled to be presented it by SFHDC Board Member Dorris Vincent, an old friend and a pillar of the Bayview Hunters Point community. These are her remarks:

Dr. Willie Ratcliff accepts the San Francisco Housing Development Corp.’s Power of Words award as SFHDC CEO David Sobel, SFHDC Board of Directors member Dorris Vincent and Mary Ratcliff listen at the SFHDC 30th Anniversary Power in Numbers Gala at the California Academy of Sciences on May 11. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

I was asked by the SFHDC Board of Directors to present the Power of Words award to Mary and Willie Ratcliff, owners of the Bay View National Black newspaper.

Before I read the script from the SFHDC board, let me tell you when I first met the Ratcliffs. It was in 1990 at a San Francisco Organizing Project Meeting. We were to get businesses to come to the new Bayview Plaza shopping center.

At one of our meetings, Willie and Mary told us about the Ratcliff Family Restaurant and Buffet that was “coming soon.” The neighborhood was excited about the new restaurant coming!

The San Francisco Independent newspaper for March 14, 1990, told the story about the restaurant. The sign announcing the restaurant hung (on the outside wall of Bayview Plaza above where the restaurant was expected to be) for many months.

The Independent printed a picture of young Willie Ratcliff standing in front of the restaurant he hoped to open. As we know, San Francisco City Hall politics is the reason it never happened.

I am honored to present the Power of Words award to the Ratcliffs, who are very deserving! If you want to know what’s going on politically, in business and social life, you need to read the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. It fulfills the mission of the neighborhood, including city, state, national and international news from the Black perspective.

In March of 1990, Willie Ratcliff had in his hand the Bayview Plaza lease, a City loan, the architect’s plans, the building permit, purchase orders for all the furnishings and equipment – all signed, sealed and delivered – to open his 160-seat Ratcliff Family Restaurant & Buffet. He would do the build-out himself with his construction company, Liberty Builders, and his son, Lafone Ratcliff, who had been running successful buffet restaurants for years – all the healthful, delicious food you can eat for one low price – and training youth from the hood to staff them, was ready to be the manager. Community hopes were high; advocate Cheryl Towns told the Independent: “When this development (Bayview Plaza) was built, we were told it wasn’t just to serve the needs of the shoppers, but also to help with the economic development of the black community.” Suddenly it all fell apart, and Ratcliff later learned from Greg Lewis, then the Examiner’s only Black reporter, that the then mayor, a “liberal,” had told him: “A Black man had the audacity to try to start a big restaurant in San Francisco in the ‘90s. Well, I put a stop to that!” Today, Ratcliff warns that a more recent “liberal” SF mayor now running for governor, Gavin Newsom, is similarly hypocritical about Black economic development and shouldn’t get Black support.

I now read the script from the SFHDC board:

“The journalism industry has been forced to reinvent itself in many ways with the rise of digital information, much to the detriment of many longstanding publications that have either shuttered or drastically cut resources. Willie and Mary Ratcliff, publishers of the San Francisco Bay View National Black newspaper, are no strangers to this sad reality, and they are continuing to fight for their publication’s survival.

“The couple, lifelong activists who met while living in Alaska, published their first edition of the paper in 1992, 15 years after it was founded by Muhammad al-Kareem. The papers were carried door-to-door throughout Bayview Hunters Point and nearby public housing and were also dropped off at the county jail. The Bay View soon made its way into state prisons, where prisoners who read the paper were moved to write political commentary for publication, thus beginning the Bay View’s longtime commitment to covering prisoners and prison abolition.

“Over the years, the paper’s beats have covered the African diaspora from Hunters Point to Haiti, disasters in New Orleans, Iraq and Gaza, economic and environmental justice, and the spectrum of Black arts and culture. The Ratcliffs’ contributions to journalism have given a voice to diverse communities through powerful and compelling stories. We therefore believe they are deserving of the Power of Words Award.”

I now present the Power of Words award to Willie and Mary Ratcliff and ask the audience to give them a standing ovation. The Ratcliffs had their say!

Dorris Vincent has served on nearly every board and worked quietly behind the scenes in nearly every movement in the history of Bayview Hunters Point – and in this hood, where toxic pollution is as likely to kill you as a bullet, she’s beat cancer several times! A wise woman who knows when to speak truth to power and when to hold her peace, she is a pillar who keeps the proud remnants of San Francisco’s once powerful Black community standing tall. The Ratcliffs humbly thank you, Dorris, and SFHDC for a wonderful evening and award, and Mary wishes her two favorite 85-year-olds, Dr. Willie Ratcliff and Dorris Vincent, many more years of lighting the way forward.

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