Asked how COVID-19 was affecting Potrero Annex-Terrace residents, Bee replied, “Not much, it’s always been hard here…”
Life at Annex-Terrace wasn’t getting harder. It’s always been hard.
Bee knew someone who had the virus, and worried about how it was transmitted. She planned to get tested at the Potrero Hill Health Center, Wisconsin Street and Coral Road, which offers tests five days a week.
Annex-Terrace opened in the 1940s, to house shipbuilders during World War II. Tens of thousands of Blacks migrated from the South to work in San Francisco’s shipyards and other wartime jobs. In 1970, 13 percent of the City was African American, a population portion that has since been halved.
Laurence, wearing a jaunty captain’s hat, spoke as he sat on a bench outside the Health Center. His life hadn’t changed much since the start of the public health crises, though he understood the importance of getting tested and wearing a mask. Now in his 50s, Laurence grew up in Annex-Terrace, and spent most of his life in San Francisco without permanent shelter. As he talked he grew angry, recalling incidences in which he was subject to police brutality, wrongfully arrested, and evicted from his home without warning.
Cops are “sneaky around here,” he said. “They hired undercover informers on that corner” and “tried to get me to sell weed one time…In today’s society, they’ll make you look like anything.”
Laurence spoke about getting jumped by other Annex-Terrace residents. He believes Black-on-Black violence is fostered by racism. Instead of fighting for justice, young Black men battle with one another.
“Black people are getting murdered for nothing,” he said, “and Trump is just trying to turn whose left against each other…Black people deserve reparations that they haven’t had.”
Donald Pease-Greene has been an Annex-Terrace resident since 2001 and is a member of Community Awareness Resources Entity (CARE), a nonprofit that provides services to the poor. Asked how Black Lives Matter protests have impacted Annex-Terrace, Pease Greene said, “We’ve been dealing with this for years. This is nothing new. The only thing that’s new is they’re catching it on film. I feel the same way I’ve been feeling: fear! As a matter of fact, two days after George Floyd got killed, Sheriff’s Department stopped me on Potrero Street for 35 minutes. They came at me kind of aggressive. If that European lady on the bike didn’t stop, I don’t know what would’ve happened. I said “I got everything I need: insurance, registration. So, what is the problem?”
Greene is a 60-year-old diabetic with heart disease. The sheriff told him he’d been pulled over because his car was too loud. They also suspected that it wasn’t registered.
“For you officers that are assholes, we would like you to resign,” said Uzuri Pease-Greene, Donald’s wife and a CARE member. “For those of you that are doing the right thing, please keep doing it. And you need to start outing those that do wrong.”
CARE wants more young people of color to join the San Francisco Police Department and supports Mayor London Breed’s proposal to redirect funding from SFPD to the Black community.
“People have been building things on our backs for a long time, so why not?” Uzuri Pease-Greene exclaimed.
In July a child was killed in Hunters Point during a drive-by shooting. “I don’t see no protesting on that,” said Donald Pease-Greene. “We got a different relationship with the officers out here. And they pretty much fair because we know each other…I mean there’s a lot of good cops out there and there are a lot of bad ones. They’re human.”
“Before COVID-19 hit hard, CARE had a barbecue cookoff with the SF Police Department and the SF Fire Department,” Uzuri Pease-Greene said. “It was beautiful. A community enjoying each other’s company. CARE won too!”
According to Donald Pease-Greene, one of the biggest challenges the neighborhood faces during the pandemic is, “they’re not taking it seriously…I’ve only seen a few residents at the testing center today. It should’ve been packed.”
Although most people wear masks when they’re outside, Uzuri Pease-Greene said there’s a lot of misinformation about the novel coronavirus. Many people think it’s a government conspiracy, wonder what assistance they’ll get if they contract the disease, and how they’ll pay their bills if they can’t go to work.
“There’s a lot of mistrust. The President is saying one thing and people are saying another thing,” she said. “It’s difficult, but my family got tested four times.”
Not far from the Health Center, at 23rd and Wisconsin streets, a popup fried chicken stand was being staffed by Doug. Born and raised at Annex-Terrace, Doug no longer lives in the neighborhood, but periodically comes to visit. Asked how the community has changed during the public health emergency, Doug replied, “It hasn’t. I’ve been out every single day since the pandemic because I’m an essential worker. I respect establishments and people but I’m not going to let COVID hinder me like it does to other people. The real disease is that everybody is believing in this stuff.”
Doug fears that the novel coronavirus’ greatest threat is high anxiety about getting it. “Everybody is running to the hospital for things that they’ve never had before,” he said. “I live by the universe. I’m not gonna let nothing scare me. And if I die from it then that’s what happens. I’m not gonna let it stress me out.”
Customers stood waiting to order, though most stayed in their car. It was the spot’s opening day; it’d later close while waiting to secure permits to operate. Doug and his friends run the place. His morning job involves delivering baked goods throughout the Bay Area.
“It’s fun,” said Doug. “I get a kick out of it. Oh, and I deliver breakfast to the homeless in the morning. I like that. I get a chance to make some people eat easy, good food…Nothing don’t change around here. It only happens in other communities. Everything is meant to stay the same in our neighborhood. Got a lotta people who are starting to help. The food pantry is really doing a good job. What about the Police Department that holds the people down in a negative way? We do got some real rude officers on our force. We got some good ones though…If someone’s making over $3,000 a month, they aint gonna want to live here. I really do wish the government cared about us. We seriously are like lab rats. We got all these people worrying about what’s going on with the COVID. And they think that’s a problem. Well what about the real problem? What about us as Black people, our neighborhood, these people of color? Why we can’t talk about people, human beings, that are so racist, they want to kill another human being? The COVID is nothing to me because it just got here. Let’s talk about something that’s been here for years. And Black people still going through it.”
Another longtime resident, Eric, said that two of the community’s biggest challenges were “unemployment rates” and the shutdown of public transit.
“Old people are screwed,” Eric said. “They can’t get groceries.”
To address that problem CARE is collaborating with Young Community Developers (YCD) and Shanti Project to deliver groceries, cleaning supplies, and pet food to 127 Annex-Terrace residents. One thousand hot lunches are distributed weekly.
Uzuri Pease-Greene was homeless when she moved to Annex-Terrace almost 20 years ago. She worked for BRIDGE Housing, the nonprofit developer slowly rebuilding Annex-Terrace, before joining CARE. In 2018, she ran for District 10 Supervisor, placing fourth. She plans to get a graduate degree in family therapy to help people affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.
“My community kept me sober and led me back to school. I’m only doing these things because I’m trying to give back,” she insisted.
Generosity abounds in Annex-Terrace. One resident donated a freezer to CARE to store meats and other perishables. The nonprofit distributed 500 notebooks, 300 boxes of crayons, and 900 pens to schoolchildren, the supplies purchased with donations, secured through discounts and bulk buys.
“Why?” Uzuri Pease-Greene asked. “‘Cause I know how to shop. Ha ha!”
Every second Friday of the month, YCD distributes 300 personal protective equipment bundles, each containing two masks, four gloves, and a bottle of hand sanitizer.
“SF Housing Authority donated 2,000 masks and a few gallons of hand sanitizer,” said Uzuri Pease-Greene. “It was really hard to get testing. Now we have to prepare to help those that do test positive. And we’re still trying to get it to residents that don’t have access.”
“Love each other,” said Laurence. “If you can’t do that, then what are you doing?”
“Potrero is a very diverse community and they do their best to help each other,” said Uzuri Pease-Greene. “People gotta know that there are real human beings in public housing that are doing a lot of good things.”