Posted October 15, 2015 by Editorial Staff in 2015

I AM SAN FRANCISCO: (Re)Collecting the Home of Native Black San Franciscans comes to SF Main Library | Dec 12 – Mar 10


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I AM SAN FRANCISCO: (Re)Collecting the Home of Native Black San Franciscans comes to the African American Center of the San Francisco Main Library at 100 Larkin Street in San Francisco. The show exhibits from December 12, 2015 to March 10, 2016.

On Saturday, December 12, 2015, from 2 pm to 4pm, there will be an artist talk at the Library in the African American Center.

Created and curated by Kheven LaGrone, the exhibit captures the home and soul of native Black San Francisco. I AM SAN FRANCISCO collects the personal stories of several African Americans from San Francisco. Those stories were assigned to various artists, from various places, to interpret using various media.

“An African American born in San Francisco? I’ve never met one before. You must have been one of the few,” a native Black San Franciscan often hears today. For many, the questions conjure up the feelings of marginalization and the loss of home. They remind us that African Americans are being written out of San Francisco’s past and present.

_Self-Portrait in San Francisco_ by William Rhodes

“Self-Portrait in San Francisco” by William Rhodes

In fact, San Francisco was once home to a significant and vibrant African American population. San Francisco State University started the nation’s first Black Studies Program in 1968. San Francisco’s Fillmore District was often called the Harlem of the West. San Francisco had an African American mayor.

But according to the U. S. Census, San Francisco had one of the largest declines in Black population of any large city. In the 1970s, Black made up 13.4% of San Francisco. By 2013, the Black population was less than half of that. It had declined visibly since then—the African American middle class has almost disappeared.

San Francisco’s public schools reflect the continuing decline in the African American population. According to the San Francisco Unified School District, its African American student population plummeted almost 60% from 2001 to 2015.

“Growing up,” says curator LaGrone, “it was not unusual for a family to own more than one home.” But since then, new money has flooded San Francisco. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, African Americans are the only racial group to see its median household income drop. San Francisco has the largest African-American/white income gap in the Bay Area.

I AM SAN FRANCISCO was inspired by a conversation with LaGrone and family members about growing up in San Francisco. It was also inspired by an essay by his nephew Jarrel Phillips about being an African American born and raised in San Francisco. Later, LaGrone and Phillips, who is also a member of 3.9 Art Collective, debated what it meant to be from or native to San Francisco.

In a conversation about this exhibit, William Rhodes, co-founder of 3.9 Art Collective, expressed his surprise to learn that San Francisco ever had a significant Black presence. Rhodes moved to San Francisco in 2005. Based on that conversation, LaGrone asked Rhodes to reach out to 3.9 Art Collective to participate in the exhibit since most of them were also not from San Francisco. LaGrone also invited to participate.

_LIttle Brave One_ by Kristine Mays

“Little Brave One” by Kristine Mays

The 3.9 Art Collective was created to support a creative African American presence in San Francisco. I AM SAN FRANCISCO connects the collective, as well as other artists, to native Black San Francisco.

“I was lucky to be born in San Francisco,” says curator Kheven LaGrone.

After contributing her story, economist, author and national television commentator Dr. Julianne Malveaux expressed “joy for taking this trip down memory lane and writing a few paragraphs for the project.”

Storytellers and artists include:

Jarrel Phillips; Wanda Sabir; Karen Oyekanmi; Orlonda Uffre; William Rhodes; Courageous C; San Francisco Bay View; Michael Ross; Jackie Chauhan; Dr. Julianne Malveaux; Nyame Brown; 100% College Prep Institute; Malik Seneferu; Tomye; Kristine Mays; Jian Giannini; Jim Dennis; Johanna B.; Mark Johnson; Charles Curtis Blackwell; Stetson Hines; Michole “Micholiano” Forks; Javon Phillips; Chris Cornelius; Kheven LaGrone

Part II of the exhibit, curated and created by Jarrel Phillips, will be shown at the Rosenberg Library at City College of San Francisco. Titled I AM SAN FRANCISCO: Black Past and Presence, it will exhibit from February through October 2016. It was inspired by statement “We are the San Francisco no one talks about” taken from James Baldwin’s documentary “Take This Hammer.”

Kheven LaGrone has created and curated several shows at the library including I Am America: Black Genealogy Through the Eyes of An Artist; Coloring Outside the Lines: Black Cartoonists as Social Commentators; BABA: Black Artists’ Expressions of Father; ASPIRE! Black Teen Artists’ Interpretations of Success; and The Morrie Movement: The Influence of Wee Pals Cartoonist Morrie Turner. He has curated shows for the AfroSolo Arts Festival, including Resilience and MORRIE TURNER, Creator of Wee Pals Cartoon: A 45-Year Retrospective. LaGrone’s shows have exhibited in New York City (Manhattan), San Francisco, Atlanta, Oakland and Richmond.

For more information, contact Kheven LaGrone at