The United Council for Human Services and the Curtis Family: Serving BVHP in a time of need

Gwendolyn Westbrook and the Curtis Family have formed an unbreakable bond of solidarity and love when it comes to serving the Bayview Hunters Point community. Here we have Gwendolyn with Zahara, Mama Nola, Isis, Maestro Curtis, Khaira, Niles and Phoenix out front on COVID testing day, Dec. 22, 2020. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

by Malik Washington

“The Curtis Family is nourishing our souls, while Mother Brown’s is nourishing our bodies.” – Nube Brown, managing editor of the Bay View.

All this week, Gwendolyn Westbrook, the chief executive officer of the United Council for Human Services has been ramping up efforts in order to make sure services and resources are available to all those in need during one of the toughest holiday seasons I have seen in decades.

On Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, at the UCHS headquarters on Jennings Street affectionately known as Mother Brown’s to those here in the Bay View Hunters Point community, our Managing Editor Nube Brown and myself attended a wonderful event.

Gwendolyn Westbrook teamed up with local partners from the San Francisco Adult Probation Department as well as employees with Nova Westside and Positive Directions in order to sponsor and participate in a winter coat giveaway.

During the event we were pleasantly surprised when our District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton and his aide Mr. Percy Birch came by to lend their support to this annual winter coat giveaway.

On Monday, Dec. 21, at Mother Brown’s, San Francisco Adult Probation, Nova Westside, and Positive Directions appear here with our District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton during the Winter Coat Giveaway. Special thanks to Steve Adami, Karen Fletcher and Gwendolyn Westbrook for distributing new coats to warm the body and soul. – Photo: Malik Washington

I spoke with Steve Adami and Karen Fletcher of SF Adult Probation, and they explained that this was a yearly event they look forward to and that there really is a need here in BVHP. Steve Adami has been following the work that we have been doing at the SF Bay View and he complemented us specifically on the interview that we conducted with Fathina Holmes. 

Fathina is a senior workforce developer with the City and County of San Francisco. We produced a very well received YouTube interview that attracted a lot of positive attention to our newspaper and to our community, where Fathina was born and raised.

I also took the time to speak to two adult probation officers. One of them told me that she had lived in the community of BVHP for 30 years and that she was more than happy to be able to give back to the community that she loves.

Officers Rena Ilasa and Corina Varela told me that they were serious about ensuring that formerly incarcerated people on their caseload received the necessary resources and access to services they need to keep them from ever returning back to jail. I told them a little about my journey from the penitentiary to the position as editor of this amazing national Black newspaper and they were surprised to say the least.

“I often wonder how history will judge us if we fail to nurture that genius that is in our community right now. One thing I do know is that no one else is going to come save us or support us. It is up to us to love and support ourselves, and Mother Brown’s and Gwendolyn Westbrook is the foundation of that support.”

I was inspired to meet a few of the strong brothers from Positive Directions. Positive Directions is a local organization that provides services for the homeless and people who are trying to get their lives back on track. On more than one occasion, I have seen Brothers Cedric Allen, Martin-X or Big Craig doing meaningful work in our community. Whether it be substance abuse counseling or providing a hot meal, Positive Directions continues to provide help to those who need it the most during this COVID pandemic.

The tremendous positive impact and significance of Sister Gwendolyn Westbrook’s leadership and position as director of Mother Brown’s is lost on many people who live outside of our community. I spoke to Gwendolyn and this is what she had to say:

“It is important for people to work together in hard times, especially when there is such a great need as now. Mother Brown’s is here in times of trouble. Black people have been let down time and time again, but they know when they come down here to Mother Brown’s, we are here for them. 

“It was wonderful to have Adult Probation come down here in order to pass out these warm coats, but they weren’t just warm, they were brand new. So, we appreciate these partnerships. I want to thank everyone. 

Gwendolyn Westbrook is the Chief Executive Officer of the United Council for Human Services and Bay View Editor Malik Washington and Managing Editor Nube Brown regularly volunteer at Mother Brown’s in whatever capacity they are needed. We encourage all of you to consider providing a little bit of your time in order to serve our community. Here they are inviting Westbrook Apartments residents to be COVID tested and to accept a gift of food for the holidays on Dec. 22. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

“I am so thankful for the support we get from Maestro Curtis and his beautiful wife Nola as well as their talented children. I am so very happy and feel blessed to have the SF Bay View as well as all our partners and coalition partners in our corner as we continue to serve this community.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 22, Gwen Westbrook and her team at UCHS headquarters were at it again. However, this time they were partnering up with the San Francisco Department of Health at Westbrook Apartments, encouraging community members to get tested for COVID-19. Gwendolyn instructed her staff to prepare numerous grocery bags which contained a variety of fresh meats and cheese. Nube and I volunteered to help in the preparation and loading of these bags into agency vans and then the food items were taken to the testing site at Westbrook Apartments and distributed to community members in need.

Gwendolyn Westbrook appears with one of the many Westbrook Apartment residents who not only took advantage of the free COVID-19 testing but who also got a free bag of holiday groceries courtesy of the United Council for Human Services, sponsor of Mother Brown’s. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

Upon arrival at the testing site, we were greeted by the soulful sounds of the extremely gifted and talented Curtis Family C-Notes. Maestro Curtis and his wife Nola actually walked up and down the street, microphone and amplifier in hand, exhorting community members to come out of their homes to receive some of these holiday blessings prepared by our good friends at Mother Brown’s. On top of that, we encouraged people to get tested for COVID-19 so that we can promote the health of our community members.

Once Maestro and Nola were finished coaxing folks out of their apartments, the Curtis Family blessed everyone with some sweet Christmas soul. One community member, Belinda, commented on how the music of the Curtis Family transformed her entire mindset and resonated deep down into her spirit. For those of you who couldn’t make it, Nube Brown broadcast the event live on IGTV.

I took time to interview Maestro Curtis, asking him to comment a little bit about the work of Mother Brown’s and Gwendolyn Westbrook within our community. This is what he had to say:

There is much more to Maestro Curtis, shown here at the Dec. 22 COVID testing and food giveaway event at Westbrook Apartments, and his beautiful family than meets the eye. This remarkable family is a living example of BLACK EXCELLENCE! – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

“Malik, I was a child during the Civil Rights Movement. At that time, I saw people who were at the forefront of the movement, people who represented a ‘beacon of light’ during dark times. Now in 2020 Mother Brown’s is that bright beacon of light in our community. All people need to be loved and treated fairly. I saw Black genius be birthed and blossom right here in this community. 

“I often wonder how history will judge us if we fail to nurture that genius that is in our community right now. One thing I do know is that no one else is going to come save us or support us. It is up to us to love and support ourselves, and Mother Brown’s and Gwendolyn Westbrook is the foundation of that support. We must support Gwen and the work she continues to do.”

The United Council for Human Services has been serving our community for 25 years and we welcome people who come into our community who want to help, but we will not stand by silently while they attempt to ignore or minimize the importance of the work or the people who have sacrificed much in order to serve and protect this community. Remember the African saying: “I AM WE.” 

Dare to struggle, dare to win! All power to the people!

Bay View Editor Malik Washington can be reached at Malik@sfbayview.com. Contact him whenever you see news happening. Please visit our website, sfbayview.com, read and share the knowledge, wisdom, understanding and Black culture contained in our one-of-a-kind national Black newspaper.