Struggling for multicultural unity in Bayview Hunters Point

Meet the Oakdale Community Food Bank crew: Donald Rhone, Peachy, Pastor Joe Niumalelega, Ronald Anderson, Claude Carpenter and Bing.

by Fly Benzo aka DeBray Carpenter

There are growing tensions between the Black and Asian communities due not only to a history of the communities being pitted against each other but also due to a recent spike in attacks against Asians since the start of the pandemic. To many people in San Francisco, these attacks come as a surprise, as different cultures for the most part get along harmoniously. 

What follows, however, are two examples of leaders working to paint a different picture and hopefully instill some hope while bringing people and communities together.

Oakdale Community Food Bank

The struggles intensified during the pandemic, and Pastor Joe Niumalelega saw that the supplies from the local food bank weren’t enough to sustain the community, which prompted him to take his truck to different restaurants and grocery stores to source more food and bring it back to the community.

Things started off slow, but they have grown to a respectably sized food bank serving 100+ people with groceries including eggs, cereal, bread, snacks, milk, cheese and more. He now has a team, of which he is the president and they now have 501c3 status.

Serving the public every Monday and Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m.

Pastor Joe Niumalelega

Some of the team members include Sergeant at Arms Donald Rhone, who helps in a myriad of different ways, Treasurer Ronald Anderson, a helping hand during operations, and volunteers Peachy, Bing and Claude Carpenter, longtime community activist.

When I interviewed Pastor Niumalelega, he spoke about feeling the need to reach beyond his Samoan Congregational Church to help the larger local community, which was plagued by poverty and violence. He said he’s lived on Oakdale for the past 10 years after moving from Kirkwood, where he stayed for around 20 years. 

He said that he views the community as family and he wants the community to be like family, irrespective of race or nationality. If you’ve seen the crew and the people they serve every week, you’d know this to be true. He also talked about how the violence has noticeably died down since they started serving the community.

Claude Carpenter helps with the line outside the community center

They have made a massive impact with few resources and little support, and they can do a lot more with your help. If you would like to volunteer or contribute, visit the Community Center at 1065 Oakdale Ave. on Monday or Wednesday between 12 and 1 p.m.

Gold and Black Unity Rally

The Gold and Black Unity Rally on May 22, put on by 13-year-old Ashlyn So, was a shining example of hope for a brighter future with more racial unity and cohesiveness. Ashlyn told everyone that her inspiration for getting involved in the movement was Yuri Kochiyama and her relationship with Malcolm X. Yuri learned of Malcolm when she lived in Harlem, and on Feb. 21, 1965, she was among the crowd listening to him in the Audubon Ballroom. When the assassin’s bullet hit him, she alone rushed to the stage and cradled his head in her lap as he died.

Speaking at the Gold and Black Unity Rally at the Embarcadero Center on May 22, 2021, is the event organizer, Ashlyn So, who is only 13 years old!

The event featured speakers from a number of communities – most from San Francisco – including Khafre Jay of Hip Hop for Change and Max Leung, who has been a tireless front-line fighter and activist defending Chinatown and the greater Asian community against the senseless violent acts. Max talked about how the passion and dedication of Ashlyn to strive for racial unity gave him hope for a brighter future as well as about how the event was reminiscent of his San Francisco upbringing, with representation from many of San Francisco’s many cultures and ethnicities. 

Lateefah Simon, civil rights activist and lifetime San Francisco resident, gave an extremely passionate and heartfelt speech about the history of collaboration between Asians and Blacks in San Francisco and concluded (paraphrasing), “We are all one community.”

Fly Benzo, aka DeBray Carpenter, is a young leader in Bayview Hunters Point who is dedicated to the economic development of his community. He can be reached at flybenzo@gmail.com