Seniors Graduate from “Senior University” in the Excelsior and Mission District

by Anh Le on March 10, 2006

The latest group of San Francisco’s Seniors to graduate from Senior Action Network’s (SAN) “Senior University” received their graduation caps and certificates on February 15, 2006. The most recent round of Senior University, a series of 4 intensive classes to teach Seniors to take leadership roles in the community, was held in the Excelsior and Mission District at Crocker Amazon Senior Apartments. It was organized in collaboration with the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center.

This group of Senior University students represented a large mixture of ethnic and racial backgrounds – Latino, African American, Vietnamese American, Chinese American, and Caucasian. The Seniors studied and discussed a variety of topics: community organizing; taking direct action in the community; lobbying; how to conduct an effective meeting; public speaking – how to give a 3-minute speech to make your demand; leadership; and diversity.

The Seniors shared with each other examples of community organizing that they had participated in, some from their previous workplaces and labor unions, some from their own neighborhoods or communities.

Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director of SAN, discussed with the Seniors strategies for taking direct action in the community. The Seniors discussed the issue of pedestrian safety for Seniors in San Francisco, and held a rehearsal rally during the class focusing on this issue.

Shirley Bierly, Dean of Senior University, discussed with the Seniors the different methods Seniors could use to lobby on issues.

The Seniors held intense discussions on the topics of leadership and diversity. In discussing the characteristics of a great leader, the Seniors named Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Clinton, and President Kennedy, as among model leaders in the history of the United States.

During the discussion on diversity, the Seniors spoke intensely about different aspects of diversity. In discussing about how to refer to someone who was born in another country and now lives in the United States – for example, “Chinese,” or “Chinese American” – one Senior offered the opinion that obtaining U.S. citizenship should be required first before the word “American” is employed. This led to further discussion on this question, as well as other topics on diversity covered in the class.

Each Senior University student gave a 3-minute speech on the last day of class. David Santos Cortes, a former educator in the San Francisco Community College District, demanded that MUNI require stringent and safe driving practices by MUNI drivers on the road, to prevent injuries to passengers and to prevent injuries and fatalities to pedestrians. Cortes said that many MUNI drivers approach bus stops in an unsafe manner, causing falls and injuries to passengers on the bus, and also putting the lives of passengers waiting at the bus stops in jeopardy. Cortes said that he and a friend have fallen or been injured on the MUNI bus because of unsafe driving by the MUNI bus driver. Cortes also said that MUNI should require bus drivers to lower the bus boarding steps for Seniors and the disabled and for any passengers who request it; he said that many MUNI bus drivers fail to do so at this time, even when requested by the boarding passenger. Cortes also stated that the recent pedestrian fatalities caused by MUNI buses and cable car require the City and County of San Francisco, the Mayor, and MUNI to properly address the issue of ensuring safety for MUNI passengers and San Francisco pedestrians.

Lucille Lee spoke about the litter problem in the Geneva Avenue and Paris Street area, near Rolph and Mission Streets. Lee said that the litter is not being picked up. She said that the business establishments in the area, including Popeye Chicken, Starbucks, and Walgreens, should be charged extra taxes to help the City of San Francisco keep the area litter free.

John Gordon Wood, a resident in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, said that clear and large “landmark signs” should be placed near libraries, museums, parks, and other attractions, to provide Seniors with better directions to get to them.

Ulysses Elmo Woodard called on the City of San Francisco’s Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT) and Department of Public Works (DPW) to install “countdown” pedestrian crossing signals in the neighborhood of Turk Street, Golden Gate Avenue, and Webster Avenue. Woodard stated that there are the Rosa Parks Senior Center and another senior citizen center there, a church, and a fire station, and the present pedestrian crossing signal at this location does not provide sufficient time for Seniors to cross the street safely at all.

Angelique Gonzales called on the City of San Francisco to take immediate steps to build more affordable housing for the homeless. Gonzales also said that the City should not eliminate shelters for the homeless until it has successfully housed the homeless.

Hui Thi Truong, a Senior who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years, said that she was giving her first public speech in English. Truong said that Senior University provided her an opportunity to meet other Seniors, and to learn new things. Truong stated, “Many Seniors stay at home a lot. This is not good, because of loneliness and isolation. Senior University gives me and other Seniors the opportunity to get out of our homes and be active. We learn a lot and have fun together.”

Luom Ly, who moved to San Francisco from Viet Nam a month ago, said that attending Senior University helped him in his introduction to his new life in this country, by meeting others and learning to listen to and speak English in class.

This round of Senior University classes in the Excelsior and Mission District turned out to be a happy reunion for two of the class members. John Wood and Ulysses Woodard had worked at the U.S. Post Office together in San Francisco for many years until they retired, Wood as a distribution clerk and Woodard as a postal worker and postal union leader. They had not seen each other since the 1980’s, when Woodard first retired from the post office.

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