by Charles Byrd
The man known as Mr. Byrd passed away on Aug. 14, 2015. If you lived in Geneva Towers during the years when it was San Francisco’s public housing nightmare, you would have either known him or had a conversation with him.
Elzie was a well known and loved community activist. He was a two time president of the Geneva Towers Tenant Association (GTTA). During his tenure as president of the GTTA, he created a “No kid should go hungry program” out of his own home providing lunches to children who lived in the apartment buildings who would have otherwise gone hungry.
He not only provided a meal, he also held conversations with them, provided them guidance, advice and encouragement. He helped to raise conscious awareness surrounding the condition of the apartments which eventually led to the relocation of the tenants to new housing and the demolition of the Towers. He also worked with other community leaders to obtain government funding for job readiness and job training programs for disadvantaged youths in the community.
Richard Thaxton, who grew up in the Towers, said that Mr. Byrd turned his life around and he was sorry to hear of the transition of an elder who was a mentor and advisor in his life when he was in young adulthood. Mr. Byrd discussed with Richard issues that cannot be found in a textbook. They spent countless hours engaging in a multiplicity of conversations.
Richard believes he was blessed to have had the opportunity to hear Mr. Byrd share his wisdom and knowledge of life and history. According to Richard, Mr. Byrd bridged the generational gap between the two of them with his genuine love and concern for humanity. Richard said that he will miss Mr. Byrd tremendously. Richard said, “Iron sharpens iron, and I believe my desire to serve humanity as a political advocate and agent was created when I met him.”
Richard Thaxton, who grew up in the Towers, said that Mr. Byrd turned his life around and he was sorry to hear of the transition of an elder who was a mentor and advisor in his life when he was in young adulthood.
Leslie Peacemaker Burch described Mr. Byrd as his example of a “man amongst men.” In the ‘80s and ‘90s when the African American community was being flooded with drugs and poverty was the norm, Mr. Byrd did his best to not only protect his family from becoming consumed in the mess that the streets were becoming but to also be a beacon of light to others by example. Mr. Byrd was very involved in the community by trying to bring about social change and justice. According to Leslie, Mr. Byrd “proudly displayed his love for his culture and his fearlessness in the face of those who were the opposition.”
Leslie Peacemaker Burch described Mr. Byrd as his example of a “man amongst men.”
During his life, Elzie also became a master shoe repairman and operated several successful shops. He was one of a few African American business owners in San Francisco who specialized in shoe repair. He not only took pride in his craft, but truly appreciated the friends he made during his time in business. Over the years, his shoe repair expertise and reputation led him to be known as one of San Francisco’s best shoe repair shop operators.
Mr. Byrd loved his family as could be demonstrated by the pictures which covered the walls of his home. His love of jazz music came in at a close second to his family. During his life, Mr. Byrd would cite the following rules of life to his sons, daughters and over 60 grandchildren:
Here are the “12 Things My Father Taught Me,” expressed by one of Mr. Byrd’s sons, Sydney Xavier Byrd, who is currently a San Francisco minister with Lighthouse Full Gospel Church:
- How to love
- Provide for your family
- The value of hard work
- How to stay committed to your wife
- How to be a man!
- Say when you are wrong and sorry (forgiveness)
- Friends are important, but family is better
- Look at people in their eyes when you are talking to them
- Color is good in a white world
- Have fun
- Say good morning and greet people when you come and go
- Always post your pictures on your wall
Charles Byrd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.