Keeping Alive the Dream of a Better Life for San Francisco’s Bayview Seniors

Dr. George Davis

The San Francisco Bay Area lost an icon and hero last month when we lost Dr. George Davis. Dr. Davis was a true visionary, a community leader, renowned gerontologist, minister, soul food connoisseur, sports fanatic, and devoted husband.

First there are his many worldly accomplishments: He led San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point Multipurpose Senior Center for 32 years, and was ordained as an Associate Pastor at the neighborhood’s Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church. He continued working, even after losing most of his sight to diabetes and fighting three types of cancer.

He received numerous awards and recognition for his 32 years of service, including awards from Senator Feinstein, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Mark Leno, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, and the National Council of Negro Women. He was the founder of the National Black Aging Network and was an associate faculty member at Stanford’s Geriatric Education center.

If you grew up in Oakland you might have met George Davis at Oakland’s McClymonds High School. Or maybe you played pool with him when he was known as Oakland Slim in the pool halls. Or, later after he had earned his Ph.D., he might have been your professor at San Francisco State University where he taught gerontology.

But one thing is certain: If you lived in the Bayview district you knew and loved Dr. Davis. Bayview-Hunter’s Point is a largely African American, underserved neighborhood on San Francisco’s southeastern edge. Dr. Davis got his start there as an intern at the local senior center. By 1978 he had became its executive director. He led it for 32 years, until his death on March 8th at the age of 68.

Today, the Senior Center offers recreational activities, free food distribution, and diverse social services. A separate adult health center provides health care to seniors that enable them to remain in their homes while receiving care at the center Monday through Friday. But Dr. Davis had much bigger plans for the area’s seniors—and that’s how we met him.

Six years ago Brenda Wright, a Senior Vice President at Wells Fargo Bank, asked us to help Dr. Davis and his wife Cathy create a strategy to raise funds for an “Aging Campus” in the Bayview. The first of its kind in the country, the Aging Campus is Dr. Davis and Cathy Davis’ innovative plan to provide housing and services for seniors in the area. We worked with Dr.  Davis and Cathy, and fell in love with them both. Dr. D, or “Doc”, as he was affectionately called, and his wife were an inseparable team.

He was a common man who never forgot his own humble roots in the projects of Richmond and Oakland. He was ‘old school;’ he was a man of his word. More than anything he taught us the importance of relationships, of humility, and patience. Even when he had major health struggles, he never let his personal challenges get him down. When the average person would have said, “no way can we do this,” Dr. Davis said “we can and we will!”

Dr. Davis was a steady champion for the rights and dignity of a demographic largely forgotten in our modern society: African American seniors. He fought to change the policies and economics that leave our elders neglected, isolated, and without services in their own community. He fought to ensure that those who had contributed to the growth of the City had a place to call home as they aged. He embraced Bayview — a neighborhood plagued with poverty, crime, and environmental pollutants from its former life as a naval shipyard – when few others did and sought to give it, and its residents, the dignity they deserve.

Dr. D’s vision for seniors includes high quality housing, healthcare services, and activities that promote physical and mental health. He wanted the needs of African American seniors to be the starting point for the design of buildings and services that would allow them to remain in the Bayview as they aged.

We believe in this vision and we believe in Dr. Davis. The man we loved and admired left us too soon. But he left us with an important mission to fulfill: the creation of the Aging Campus.

The idea of the Aging Campus has been endorsed by the local San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s Project Area Committee (PAC) and is recommended as a key component of the area’s redevelopment plan.  Partnerships, coordination, and resources are required to make his vision a reality.  The time is now to take this dream and make it happen for the current and future seniors of Bayview Hunters Point.

We ask you to help realize this important vision and support dignity for seniors in the Bayview by making a gift to the Dr. George W. Davis Legacy Fund, c/o Bayview Hunters Point Multipurpose Senior Services (BHPMSS), 1706 Yosemite, S.F., CA  94124. Their website is: http://www.bhpmss.org/home.

Thanks to the Bayview Hunter’s Point Multipurpose Senior Services, Inc. for information used in this blog.

© Mel and Pearl Shaw 2010.

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