by Morris Turner
Since 1977, the Florence Douglas Senior Center has existed as the primary entity serving the social enrichment needs of senior citizens in Vallejo, California. However, despite demographics of the city reflecting 70 percent people of color, the center’s clientele has traditionally come from the minority Caucasian population.
That was the case until December 2012, when local resident and New York Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia donated a tournament size pool table and flat screen television to the center. For approximately two years, the pool table and its relationship to a young man known throughout the community served as a catalyst in attracting growing numbers of African American men, mostly fathers, to the center. The center became for the first time an attractive place to gather and chat about gardening, grandchildren or time in the military over a game of pool.
However, in November 2014, Peter Wilson, the center’s director, feeling that the pool table was contributing to an “undesirable” environment, encouraged the board to sell the pool table rather than talk to the men about his concerns. The board approved his request and the pool table, a symbol of hometown pride, was sold in a clandestine manner – over the weekend – on Craigslist for only $100. When men entered the center on Monday, they found the pool table missing and were greeted by an armed security guard, who informed them in writing that the table had been sold and that the space was being considered for other activities.
Upon hearing of this, Mr. Sabathia’s mother demanded that the center get the table back, which they did at a cost of $1,700. However, rather returning the table back to the center, possibly in a different location as it was originally placed in the library area, the table was donated to the Omega Boys Club.
An adhoc group of Vallejo citizens has challenged the actions of Peter Wilson, characterizing them as irresponsible and insensitive at best. On March 19, 2015, the group called an open meeting attended by more than 50 people, although center director Wilson nor any members of the center board accepted the invitation to discuss the issues.
The ad hoc group has approached the Vallejo City Council, headed by African American mayor, Osby Davis, but the council nor the mayor has taken the opportunity to demonstrate proactive leadership. NAACP president Jimmy Jackson did meet with the senior center’s director and strongly encouraged him to reach a resolution with the group.
This citizens’ group, comprised of a cross section of the community, including several African American fathers, plans to attend the June general membership meeting of the center. Calling for “Gray Power” and stating that “All seniors matter,” the group will press to have the organizational bylaws of 2008 reinstated. Those bylaws called for expanded representation of seniors on the board and an increase in the number of annual meetings from the current two per year to the four per year called for in the 2008 bylaws.
And it all started with a pool table.
Morris Turner, the father of two sons, ages 39 and 35, was a community worker with the Black Panther Party. Over the past 45 years he has worked with children and young people in a variety of settings, including as preschool teacher, career counselor, family mentor and sports coach. He is also an author and recognized researcher in the area of African American settlement in the United States, but his greatest pleasure today is learning to be a good grandpa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 707-794-0729.