Narration: Paul Willis is 75 years old, and used to be part of the United States Air Force. He moved to San Francisco in the 1960s, and has lived here ever since. We met him at the Western Addition Senior Center, where he was been coming for quite some time. He learned about the senior center through other community service centers predominant in the Hunter’s Point and Bayview neighborhoods.
Paul Willis: George M. Davis, I used to work with him a long time ago —— he was a doctor. When he established a multipurpose service center out there in Hunter’s Point, it was on Yosemite street. He was looking for volunteers at that particular time. He was very much alive then, he passed away a number of years ago. We had worked together 15 years before that. I was on a staff with him.
Narration: Dr. Davis was an incredible community leader in San Francisco. He was the Executive Director of Bayview Hunters Point Multipurpose Senior Services for 32 years. Throughout all of those years, he continually strived to create helpful programs for the seniors. He was truly passionate about wanting to help the Black community.
He asked me, “Hey Paul, what are you doing?” I told him “I’m not really doing anything.” He said, “You got some time on your hands?” I said “Yeah, what’s happening?” He said “Are you willing to volunteer? Talk to people?” He had a little upstairs thing. I would get in there and talk to people.
Narration: In Paul’s opinion, technology has really changed the job landscape in San Francisco, almost to the point where it becomes hard to acquire a job if you don’t possess technological skill. It’s quite stark in contrast to almost 75 years ago, when African-Americans came to San Francisco in the mid-40s and found work in shipyards and manufacturing.
PW: Thinking about 50 years ago, these things were not happening. You cannot live in the past always, if you don’t keep up with the times, you’re left behind.
PW: Because this is just a small portion…this is what I was stating about technology. It’s not only here in California, it’s all over this country. It came in so fast, there ain’t no construction jobs no more. There ain’t no warehouse jobs, no major steel mills no more. These are the things that came in so fast, and people weren’t ready.
Narration: Paul emphasizes that technology makes it difficult for low to middle class citizens to advance in the workforce. It takes a time to learn a new technological skill, and most people usually do not have the time to set aside for job retraining.
PW: We voted on it, but still when it came in, People were like “I’m lost, I’ve got to retrain.” If you’ve got a young family, and you were making pretty good money, whether you were a man or a woman, you don’t have time to reconnect when you got bills, rent, car notes, and whatever.
Narration: Like many other seniors who have been passionate about improving their communities, his ties to activism are strong. During his retirement, Paul frequently visits San Francisco City Hall.
PW: I’m proud of one thing. I was fortunate enough to retire off a job —— two of them, a matter of fact. I got all the time in the world, and I go to City Hall meetings a lot of times now right down there in room 200, where the mayor is. She’s not the first, I was down there when Newsom was mayor. I was down there a few times when Willie Brown was mayor.
Narration: Throughout our conversation, Paul expressed to me the importance of having one’s voice heard at city hall and local government meetings , especially the younger generation.
You go down and protest in front of City Hall, get into a discussion with one of those individuals that is supposed to represent you, and they’ll tell you that you’re out of order and walk on out. I’m saying everybody in this world has a chance, all you have to do is take advantage of it.
People my age and older, we don’t have a voice no more. We can discuss things about what used to be. One voice ain’t gonna stop anything. The difference that’s going on now, is that y’all got to make the change. It’s all about the new people.