Living Black-Art of Survival

By Kheven Lagrone and Jarrel Phillips

We are the San Francisco no one talks about
—James Baldwin

Today, a native Black San Franciscan often hears, “An African American born in San Francisco? I’ve never met one before. You must be one of the few.”

For many of us, the questions conjure up feelings of marginalization and confront us with the reality of losing our homes. Just what does it mean to be a native San Franciscan? In response to this challenge we are creating two public art exhibitions on the theme I Am San Francisco. The first, curated by Kheven LaGrone, is subtitled (Re)Collecting the Home of Native Black San Franciscans, the second, by Jarrel Phillips, is Black Past and Presence.

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 and the Fillmore District was often called the Harlem of the West. But according to the last census, San Francisco has had one of the largest declines in Black population of any large city since the 1970s when Blacks made up 13.4 percent of the city. By 2013, the Black population was less than half of that and it has declined visibly since then. The African American middle class has almost disappeared and San Francisco’s public schools reflect that continuing decline in population. According to the San Francisco Unified School District, its African American student population plummeted almost 60 percent from 2001 to 2015.

The stories that follow are the textual portion of an exhibit that strives to capture the home and soul of native Black San Francisco via personal stories.

We are not here to fight, struggle, or prove anything. We just want to share the depth, beauty, complexity, and abundance prevalent within ‘Black life’—culturally, communally, and individually.

Kheven LaGrone has created and curated many exhibitions, including, I Am America: Black Genealogy Through the Eyes of An Artist; Coloring Outside the Lines: Black Cartoonists as Social Commentators; and BABA: Black Artists’ Expressions of Father. LaGrone’s shows have been exhibited in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Oakland, and Richmond. Jarrel Phillips is the founder of AVE (, curator of How We Play, and an RP&E Cultural Correspondent.

Storytellers and artists include: Malik Seneferu, Wanda Sabir, Karen Oyekanmi, Blanche Brown, Emory Douglas, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Kristine Mays, Charles Curtis Blackwell, William Rhodes, Michael Ross, Tania Santiago, Orlonda Uffre, Tomye, Michole “Micholiano” Forks, Jarrel Phillips, Kheven LaGrone and more…

Part 1. I Am San Francisco:
(Re)Collecting the Home of Native Black San Franciscans

African American Center at the San Francisco Main Library
December 12, 2015 to March 10, 2016.
Curated by Kheven Lagrone

Featured Storytellers:

Part 2. I Am San Francisco:
Black Past and Presence

Rosenberg Library at City College of San Francisco
April through October 2016
Curated by Jarrel Phillips

This project will present visual art and commentary that celebrates and acknowledges the creativity and existence of native Black life in San Francisco. And, will capture the depth, beauty, complexities, and abundance prevalent within ‘Black life,’ —culturally, communally, and individually—through the personal reflections of its contributors.

Premiering at City College of San Francisco in April 2016, this is the second installment of two multi-media art exhibitions themed “I am San Francisco.” It will unfold with a short film, a print version, and a culminating event, a collaboration between Reimagine! — a grassroots cooperative of writers, editors, artists and designers based in Oakland and AVE. AVE is dedicated to youth and community by integrating meaningful experiences through play, work, art and learning.

I Am San Francisco for Reimagine! RP&E
Lead Artist Jarrel Phillips (AVE Founder), with collaborating artists Kheven LaGrone, and Christine Joy Ferrer and Jess Clarke from Reimagine!

Check back for more stories…
Coming Soon Spring/Summer 2016

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For Participants and Artists
IAMSF Artist/Participant Release Form