Rev. Amos Brown calls on City and financial community to support iconic Black-owned business, Fillmore Heritage Center

by Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown

It was a sad and rainy day in the Fillmore when the noble Bryant Mortuary, where the community has bid farewell to their loved ones for nearly six decades, was forced by a predatory lender to close. “Predatory lending and bad policies by the Redevelopment Agency have destroyed this Black community,” Rev. Amos Brown said, quoted in the Examiner. “Politicians have not taken the plight of Black folks in this town seriously.” – Photo: Ellie Doyen, Special to SF Examiner

Although the City of San Francisco celebrated Black History Month in February with a variety of events, that wasn’t enough to save another iconic, Black-owned business set to be forced to close as gentrification intensifies.

We are calling for Mayor Breed and the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco to partner with the financial community to help save Bryant Mortuary, a 55-year-old family-owned business at 645 Fulton St. that recently fell victim to a predatory loan. The business is one of the last remaining representations of a once-thriving Black community in San Francisco.

Also, during Black History Month, we are renewing calls for government and financial leaders to develop a financial plan for the acquisition of the Fillmore Heritage Center at 1330 Fillmore St.

If we do not come together to acquire the Heritage building, it will be the deathbed of the Black community in San Francisco. We are appealing to people with the financial resources and moral compass to come together so we can make sure this city is inclusive.

In 1970, African Americans made up about 13 percent of San Francisco’s population. Today, estimates reduce that number to less than 5 percent. Data that will be collected for the 2020 Census will paint an even grimmer picture.

Some estimate the Black population is reducing at the alarming rate of 5 percent annually. The reduction follows decades of misguided policies, particularly in the Fillmore District and surrounding neighborhoods, where a state redevelopment effort led to broken promises and mass displacement.

Now, it is time to develop policies that will preserve local African American businesses and cultural centers.

The Bryant Mortuary is one such business. It has fallen prey to an underwater loan that has exponentially increased its monthly dues. The financial burden threatens to close an operation run by four generations of the Bryant-Kelley family. In 1960, Ralph and Lillie Bryant, along with sister Juanita Bremond Kelley, known as “Baby Sis,” moved the mortuary to its current location. To this day, the business continues to provide exemplary service to the community led by members of their family.

Closure of this mortuary mirrors how the African American community in this city is under siege and on its way to its death. If we do not come together as a city, we will lose not only this business but every remaining remnant of our culture. It will not only be a blow to Black families and merchants, but to a city that prides itself for its diversity.

Yoshi’s couldn’t keep the Fillmore Heritage Center busy enough, and neither could The Addition, which briefly occupied the huge, many-faceted space inside after Yoshi’s left. Why? The Fillmore Heritage Center Equity Partners, who are now managing the building under a temporary agreement with the City, are from the community that fought for it for decades. And look, in only their third month, how busy the place is, people flocking in for every activity and event.

Likewise, a failure to preserve the Fillmore Heritage Center, one of the last broken promises of the government-led redevelopment of the neighborhood, will complete a decades-long march toward the eradication of Black families and culture in San Francisco.

If we don’t act now, San Francisco’s celebration of Black History Month will have taken on an ominous tone, as Blacks in the city become just that: history.

Dr. Amos C. Brown is pastor of Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, president of the San Francisco NAACP and chair of the National NAACP Religious Affairs Committee and of the Social Justice Commission, National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. He can be reached at dramoscbrown@thirdbaptist.org.