by Daphne Young
If you’ve noticed some changes as you read the SF Bay View this month, it’s because the 48-year-old publication has a new executive editor.
He’s Kevin Epps, San Francisco’s best known filmmaker and the favorite son of Bayview Hunters Point, the pride of the community where he was born and raised. He joined the staff in November 2023 after volunteering for decades. He says he’s hoping to take the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper in a different direction.
“It’s imperative to engage the now and next generation of readers, our young people,” said Epps. “The paper has to be more inclusive for them to participate and have a voice in this important legacy publication that has been an important voice for movement, dialogue and discussion as it relates to Black issues.”
The legendary local filmmaker who brought us such groundbreaking documentaries as, “Straight Outta Hunters Point,” “Rap Dreams,” “The Black Rock” about Black prisoners on Alcatraz and “Third Baptist Church,” a documentary about historical Black churches in California,” is now the father of a teenager, seeing in his own children why it’s essential to embrace Black youth. They are coming of age at a time of unprecedented existential challenges, from the climate crisis to genocide. Epps adds that the SF Bay View has played an important role in Black liberation journalism in the Bay Area and beyond for more than 40 years.
“Young voices have been a key part of that movement,” said Epps. He says this means making sure the newspaper has a strong presence wherever they are: That’s in social media these days; now over 302 million people spend their time on social sites.
“I just took a look at the Bay View’s social platforms and saw that they needed to be more interactive and engaging,” said Epps.
Since Epps came on board, the SF Bay Views’ Instagram, Twitter/X, TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media sites have seen an increase in followers and chatter.
“But, with a limited staff, it’s been challenging,” said Epps.
Epps is referring to a recent reduction in revenue – which comes primarily from advertising, subscriptions and donations – that had been sufficient to support a small staff over the past three years. He’s hopeful, though, that donations will rise sharply now that the Bay View has formally reorganized and has a brand new 501(c)(3) letter from IRS that enables donors to deduct their gifts from their taxes – in other words, donors can give the money they owe IRS to the Bay View instead!
“It’s a pivotal time. We must get it right! I could see the Bay View needing help, somebody to come in and stabilize the organization and build on top of the rich legacy for the future,” said Epps.
As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s important to note that the SF Bay View was founded by Brother Muhammad al-Kareem back in 1976. His original name for the newspaper was the New Bayview. In 1991, Willie and Mary Ratcliff purchased the publication and later changed the name to the San Francisco Bay View, adding the appellation National Black Newspaper after the National Black Chamber of Commerce named the paper “Black Newspaper of the Year” in 1997.
Epps has fond memories of the Bay View’s early days. “I was a paper delivery boy for this newspaper back in the 1980s,” said Epps. “This was one of my first jobs, when I was about 10 years old. That’s roughly 40 something years ago, and to come full circle back here, in these turbulent times, and now the opportunity to bring the focus of the paper back home to where it all started, is important to me. There’s so much work to be done.”
Described as an “unsung hero and a modern day prophet,” Epps has already made his mark on the world, working for years with the prestigious deYoung Museum and traveling the world to show and discuss his film, “Straight Outta Hunters Point.” He served for many years as president of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association. A strong supporter of Hunters Point-based organizations, he has served as president of the board of the SF Bay View Foundation since its inception.
Dr. Willie and Mary Ratcliff are dealing with health issues and can no longer carry a heavy workload, so, as income allowed, staff were hired in the past few years but didn’t always stay. “It’s been a lot of musical chairs with people coming in and out, and it hasn’t had the stability it needs,” Epps said. He believes that as executive editor he can give the Bay View the stability that the paper, the community and the readers deserve.
“If you look at the history of the Bay View, it’s been an incredible paper in different phases,” noted Epps. “Working with the SF Bay View is something that I never thought that I would be doing. I wasn’t even interested in this position. I was focused on building the board and doing some other administrative things to make sure the whole institution is healthy and making sure that the legacy and the history of this organization thrives and lives on beyond the current publishers.”
Epps says he’s inspired to help the newspaper keep telling stories. But, he wants the paper to share the kind of stories that people in the community want to read in the newspaper and on social media.
Taking a moment to be genuinely honest, Epps shared his personal opinion of the newspaper.
“The publication was outdated, for one,” he said. “It wasn’t as relevant as it could be; it wasn’t robust. Don’t get me wrong: It’s still a staple in our community and an influential paper. But, many of the stories weren’t relevant and engaging on social media.”
Epps added, “I think a lot of community folks, you know, coined it a prison paper. Don’t get me wrong. Letters from prisoners are a very important part of this paper because those are our folks. They are our relatives, our brothers, sisters, cousins, fathers and family members. So, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if this paper is to sustain itself, it needs to diversify the stories and be more representative of the community that’s living out here in these streets now, that’s fighting and surviving. A lot of those are young people.”
Epps invites readers to take a closer look at the most recent issue – the January 2024 Bay View – to see some of the changes. “You’ll see a whole bunch of young people on the cover,” says Epps. “All those young people telling their college success stories are from Bayview Hunters Point and nearby Black communities.”
The “Straight Outta Hunters Point” director said, “We just have to be more intentional in how we balance our space, both in print and digitally, so we actually speak to all our people and speak to the issues that we’re dealing with right now.”
Epps says he’s committed to listening and guiding the SF Bay View to become more relevant and much more active in different places and spaces, especially on social media, where the youth are.
Daphne Young is a freelance journalist in San Francisco who currently writes and reports for the SF Bay View and the SF Chronicle. She also fills-in as an anchor and reporter at KQED Radio. The Chicago native has won numerous awards over the years and is a general assignment reporter who covers everything from breaking news, crime, social justice, business, sports and entertainment. Contact her at email@example.com.