IN THE HOUSE
Committed to Change
On a brilliant Tuesday afternoon as R&B music provides a soundtrack for the bustle of Turk Street, inside Hospitality House’s Community Building Program, Terrance Blake convenes a discussion group. More than a dozen community members gather around a TV screen full of the faces of other discussion members participating via zoom. A web camera is pointed, not at Terrance, but at the entire room.
“I want to make sure that I’m not the main focus here. You all are.” Terrance assures.
Committed To Change (CTC) is a unique re-entry support and mentoring group dedicated to formerly incarcerated community members, led by Terrance. One-by-one, each member is encouraged to share personal stories with the group. Each story is poignant, hopeful, transformative.
“I like everyone to sit in front of the camera, not just me. What they say matters!” Terrance explains. And, he adds “ What’s said here, stays here.” The trust within the CTC group is essential, creating a safe space that respects privacy and builds confidence. “It’s about people feeling good about themselves. It’s about having other people believe in them. It’s amazing.”
Committed To Change originally started as House Talk, a forum specifically for formerly incarcerated community members to share resources. It was the brainchild of former “lifer” Windy Click, now Hospitality House’s Director of Community Engagement. With Windy’s guidance and Terrance’s incredible drive, the forum expanded its focus on coaching and mentoring - and Committed To Change was born.
CTC meets twice a month. Each group member is given the opportunity to list five things they want to do. The first thing on the list is almost always “Get a job.”
“Some people come in and say, ‘ I’ve never had a job in my life. I’ve been in prison 25, 30 years.’” he recounts. “I would tell them, ‘Yes, you had a job. If you worked in the kitchen, that’s culinary, right? If you were cutting hair, you can be a barber. Those are all [transferable] skills you can put on your resume.”
In just six months, Terrance was able to guide more than 90 CTC members into jobs. He credits the hardworking staff of the Hospitality House Employment Program. “They help so many brothers and sisters get jobs. Their teamwork makes the dream work!”
To boost confidence and self-esteem, Terrance began taking in donations of suits, dress shirts, dress shoes, ties, and other attire. He started by raiding his own closet so he called this CTC offering, “The Closet”.
“A guy came up to me and he [hasn’t] had a suit in 35 years! Just something that simple, right? [We go] straight to the back, get him a suit, a shirt, a tie, all nice stuff. Got him some shoes. [Now] he can go spend time with his daughter one weekend.” Terrance shared.
CTC offers lessons on building social skills and developing critical thinking, through role playing exercises and coaching.
“For some [of us], you’ve got to unlearn what you learned in prison.” Terrance explains. He tells the story of Richard Davis, a white man who spent more than 50 years in prison where socializing outside of your race could be dangerous and racism was the norm.
“Richard is an amazing man, I’m proud of him. Everything in prison is about race, so for an African American man to support him and tell him he loves him, that changes things. You can’t be friends with other races in prison.” Terrance said.
“Terrance saved my life!” Richard exclaimed during a recent visit to Hospitality House, “This man got me a job.” Richard regularly visits Terrance even during days the group doesn’t meet.
[ Watch Richard receive his first suit in 60 years.]
Richard is among dozens of group members who are current or former residents of 111 Taylor, a “Parolee Service Center'' in the Tenderloin run by the GEO Group, a global corporation reaping hundreds of millions in profits from private prisons and detention centers – overwhelmingly people of color. Located barely two blocks from Hospitality House, many residents end up coming to Hospitality House due to the lack of support they receive. CTC reaffirms that everyone community member is a potential asset. “Sometimes they [GEO Group] don’t provide basic support that builds social skills.” Terrance said. He would help build social skills by accompanying CTC members as they navigate the systems outside.
“GEO Group’s focus is their corporation not community, and profits not people,” asserts Joe Wilson, Hospitality House’s Executive Director. “But we have something that GEO Group can never, ever put a price on – the heart of someone like Terrance Blake.”
“Being able to believe in yourself again – that’s the key.” says Terrance. “If you take a person and show him or her what to do, it’s going to be awesome. Just show them that [they’re] worth it. People need to know that people care. It’s that belief (in yourself).”
He recounts his own story. “All of those thoughts in prison are just dreams. But when I was in prison, there was this song (music video), and they had this 300 Chrysler, 2005. I had a life sentence but I said, you know what, I’m going to get that car. People were telling me, ‘You got 20-to-life. How you gonna get that car? You sound crazy.’ When I got out, I got that exact same car! That exact same one that people said that I was never gonna be able to get. But I traded up! I definitely traded up.
How can you support Committed To Change?
- Donate high quality clothing for job interviews and to build self-esteem. Call (415) 749-2184 to make arrangements.
- Set up an online fundraiser for Hospitality House (for example: Create a facebook birthday/anniversary fundraiser or help a friend and relative set one up.
- Make a donation to Hospitality House’s community programs by clicking on the DONATE button below.
Thank you for supporting The Heart of Art
On behalf of the entire Hospitality House family and community of artists, we thank you for making THHE Auction Online 2021 – a rousing success!
We are grateful to all our friends, our generous sponsors, and long-standing art supporters. You’ve shown us once again why community matters, how much we need art in our lives, and the power of the artist to ignite our imagination. Because of your contribution, THHE Auction Online raised nearly $240,000 for Hospitality House and the Community Arts Program! Your outpouring of generosity helped make this possible – again, we thank you.
The Community Arts Program at Hospitality House has been an incubator for creativity and a vehicle for social change for more than 50 years. It remains San Francisco’s only free fine arts studio and gallery space for low-income artists. Each year, hundreds of local artists hone their talents through weekly workshops, reach broader audiences via frequent exhibitions and themed shows, and earn needed income through sales of their art work.
There is so much to do. Every day, we are reminded how fragile we are. But also how connected – how much we need each other. Why it matters that we hold fast to our dreams. The power to imagine better is also the power to be better. Artists have that gift to remind us of the beauty all around us, and the beauty within each of us. That a blank canvas has unlimited possibilities. Indeed.
Thank for celebrating the heart of art with us.
Joe Wilson, Executive Director
SPECIAL THANKS to our THHE Auction Online Planning Committee:
Braden Cerutti, Hospitality House Board Member | Francis Camaquin, Artists Liaison | Marissa D’Orazio, Arrow Events | Tess Davis, Hospitality House | Britt Henze, Artist Alejandra Hilsaca, Hospitality House | Arley Iribe, Levis Strauss & Co. | Kate Laster, Hospitality House | A. Samson Manalo, Hospitality House | Gabbi Sanchez Mallona, Zendesk | Olivia Ongpin, Luna Rienne Gallery | Maddie Putnam, Hospitality House | Maria Rocchio, Hospitality House Board | Tan Sirinumas, Community Artist | Steenalisa Tilcock, Hospitality House | Jasmine Sullivan, Artist | Cate White, Artist | Janet Williams, Hospitality House | Joseph Wilson, Hospitality House
Our incredible gallery partners:
Renee DeCarlo, The Drawing Room | Don Ross & Guy Campbell, an.a.log SF | Nico Schwieterman, Fleet Wood | Alexa Trevino, Artillery AG | Olivia Ongpin, Luna Rienne Gallery
And our wonderful sponsors & donors:
Sherilyn Adams | Tina V. Aguirre | Anonymous | Chandler Fine Arts & Framing | Jim Leigh & Debbie Callis | Brad Cerutti | Curry Senior Center | Beverly Curwen | Karen Diefenbach | Four Sisters of the Bay Area | Healing Cuts | Homeless Prenatal Program | Mary A. Kelly | Lyndsey Konrad | A. Samson & Joyce Juan Manalo | Nurture Coaching | Svane Family Foundation | Tenderloin People’s Congress | Ayni & Sean Vienna | Sandy Weil | Joseph T. Wilson | Alanna Zrimsek
If you missed the YouTube broadcast of THHE Auction Online 2021, you can still watch the entire program below.
We continue to accept donations to our Heart of Art Capital Campaign to establish a permanent home for our Community Arts Program. Click here to find out more and to make a donation.
“For those who aren’t in the room…”
Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month - Remembering Yori Wada
by Joe Wilson, Executive Director, Hospitality House
Legendary human rights champion Yori Wada died nearly 25 years ago, leaving a legacy of achievement, and an indelible imprint on the lives of youth and adults – across generations, across neighborhoods, across races and ethnicities. Yori Wada battled injustice throughout his life. While Yori’s family was imprisoned at an internment camp in Arkansas, Yori served in the celebrated Japanese American 442nd Combat Team. Yori worked at both the Booker T. Washington Community Center and was Director of the Buchanan YMCA for nearly two decades. Yori Wada was the first Japanese-American ever appointed to the University of California’s Board of Regents in its 109-year history, the first Asian American on the City's Civil Service Commission, and he fought tirelessly for affirmative action and divestment from apartheid-era South Africa. Ahead of his time.
Yori Wada mentored and counseled youth and adults from different racial backgrounds and neighborhoods throughout San Francisco and across the state. He championed issues of the day across the political landscape throughout California on issues of juvenile justice, violence prevention, education equity and racial justice.
My first meeting with Yori Wada was certainly fortuitous. He saved me from being handcuffed and taken to jail. Hard to believe, I know, but my big mouth nearly got me locked up. And would have had it not been for Yori’s timely intervention – on behalf of someone he’d only just met.
In the 1990’s, the Private Industry Council was the precursor to today’s Workforce Investment Board. In those days, public comment was not allowed at Council meetings. Public meeting, public policy being set - but no public comment. So, of course, I show up and start commenting on nearly every agenda item. The first meeting, Council members humored me. The second, they admonished me. The third meeting, though, I got into an ill-advised argument with the Council Chair. Security guards escorted me out of the meeting, planning to have me arrested for trespassing. Unbeknownst to me, Yori Wada - a Council member at the time - had followed us out.
Yori interceded just as the guards were phoning SFPD. “It’s ok, gentlemen,” Yori said calmly. “He’s with me.” Yori’s eyes held mine. Yori Wada's modest physical stature belied his mesmerizing presence that could be comforting or relentless - often both - depending on the situation. “Young man,” Yori began, “You’ve got heart, and you’ve got smarts. But remember this: you’re not speaking for yourself - you’re speaking for those who aren’t in the room.” Yori paused to let this sink in, then added, “It’s not enough for you to BE right. You’ve got to DO right by people who aren’t here. Don't forget that.”
Solidarity is often expressed in soaring platitudes, appeals to our better angels, impassioned pleas to recognize our shared struggles. All good, all necessary. Sometimes though, solidarity bridges the racial divide with little fanfare: a subtle breeze of emotional clarity, a moment of human connection. Yori Wada – World War II hero, University of California Regent, global human rights champion, multi-generational mentor – extended his friendship, his kindness - and yes, his love to someone he'd only just met. I’ve often fallen short of Yori’s advice, but it's remained part of me for more than 25 years. Quietude amidst the noise.
Along with untold thousands whom he touched, I’m forever grateful - and fortunate - for having met the esteemed Yori Wada.