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February 19, 2010


Local Public Activists Honored for Service

By Robert Rogers

Courtland “Corky” Booze was touched, but not content.

At the outset of City Council business Tuesday, Booze stood beaming before about 200 of his fellow citizens, his young granddaughter at his side.

The longtime community leader was honored along with three other living local legends, all hailed by the mayor as tireless drivers of “positive social change.” [emphasis added]

Lillie Mae Jones, Rev. Phil Lawson, Eula Averhart and Booze received proclamations for demonstrating “past and on-going commitment to positive social change.” The recognitions came as part of the city’s Black History Month observances.

But less than an hour after receiving the honor, Booze had set the plaque aside and strode to the lectern for some tough talk.

He was already back into the role he’s played for decades: The no-nonsense firebrand guarding his conception of the public virtue. This time he delivered a tongue-lashing to council members he said were neglecting the city’s south side in favor of pumping public money downtown and in a Point Richmond pool.

Moments later, his voice softened, he said he will always be engaged with public business.

“I haven’t missed a council meeting in 18 years,” Booze said.

Each of the four longtime local leaders were praised for their dedication to the city and its people, particularly the impoverished black residents that have made up a significant portion of the city’s population during the post-WWII economic and industrial decline.

Richmond’s population is about 36 percent black, according to the U.S. Census, giving it one of the highest proportion black populations in California.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin read the individual accolades for each honoree before embracing them and handing them a framed certificate. [emphasis added]

Booze, who currently serves as vice chair for the Recreation Department in addition to his roles as grassroots organizer and hawk-like council-watcher, wasn’t the only honoree to affirm a reputation for blunt speech.

Jones sat in her wheelchair during the ceremony, her face impassive as McLaughlin ticked off examples of her work in Richmond over the years. [emphasis added]

Jones led successful efforts to convert former railroad property into the Richmond Greenway, creating a community garden and art display at Harbor Way and Macdonald Ave. and founded the CYCLE organization that trains and mentors at-risk youths, McLaughlin said. [emphasis added]

Then the mayor handed over the microphone.

“I demand that the city reopen the (police) substation in the Iron Triangle,” Jones said loudly, adding that she has been a local resident for more than 70 years. “I want that done right away!”

The crowd cheered approval, but no councilmember directly addressed the issue. The substation, located in the city’s poorest and most crime-addled neighborhood, was closed years ago in a cost-cutting measure.

Averhart said few words, but her history of service earned her the proclamation. She has been active in the community for more than 50 years, and was instrumental in the early ‘80s launch of Richmond’s Community Development Commission and has headed neighborhood councils, McLaughlin said. [emphasis added]

Rev. Phil Lawson was honored for his work with Richmond’s poor through his ministry at Easter Hill United Methodist Church, and leadership in the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program and other organizations, McLaughlin said. [emphasis added]

After the ceremony, Lawson, a soft-spoken man with long gray hair, chatted with residents outside council chambers. Asked of what work he was most proud, he cited the work he and others did to establish the nation’s highest living wage ordinance in 2001, and negotiating with state leaders to forgive about $4 million in debts owed by the local school district.

“We were very successful in those two projects,” Lawson said. “And they did good for many people.”


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