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CELEBRATING CULTURE & COMMUNITY'S HISTORY PROJECT: Willie Bradford


Celebrating Culture & Community is putting together interviews of 25 El Cerrito residents, a project aimed at showing the diverse communities that have contributed to the city's history.

The interviews have been made possible largely through support from the California Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information about Celebrating Culture & Community , contact Eve Ma at 236-3255 or ccandc_97@yahoo.com

Following is one of the interviews:

 

Interview with Willie Bradford,11/1/1999

Interviewer: Robin DeLugan

Willie Bradford has lived in the vicinity of El Cerrito since 1946. After joining the service he left the area and he returned in 1958 and has been a permanent resident ever since.

Mr. Bradford retired three years ago from the Alameda County Probation Dept. where he served as a deputy probation officer.

Willie is a resident of western El Cerrito. He has been an active member of the Western El Cerrito Neighborhood Council, and an active participant in civic and community affairs. Willie has a degree in social welfare and in history, and has completed graduate work in clinical psychology. Willie Bradford's observations about El Cerrito reflect his commitment to community, unity and to a better future.

Willie remembers that in the early 1960's El Cerrito was a small city where neighbors frequently got together to discuss community affairs. He remembers experiencing fellowship. The area had many services and conveniences for the community such as a co-op chain grocery stores. This co-op had a community center where people could meet, organize and participate in local issues. In 1965 the El Cerrito Plaza was built. This was beneficial to El Cerrito residents and to the economy of El Cerrito.

Some of the people who Willie remembers are people who were very active in community politics and organizations. He remembers--

Milton and Edna Combs (They were actually residents of Richmond but lived very close to the city line, just two houses from the El Cerrito border. Like other people in that area, they were very active in the community by virtue of living so close to El Cerrito.)

El Cerrito is an "old little city" because many residents bought their homes years ago and have continued to reside in these homes. By virtue of this, there are lots of seniors. The large number of seniors living on a fixed, retirement income (particularly in the western El Cerrito section of the city) contributes to Willie's observation of El Cerrito as being a low-middle income class city. The average resident of western El Cerrito is over 60, and a homeowner.

El Cerrito has changed principally in that it no longer offers the same level of services to residents as it did in the 1960's. For this reason El Cerrito has somewhat lost its some of its attractiveness. In the past people would come to El Cerrito and avail themselves of the services, businesses, etc. of El Cerrito. Although the services have diminished, he nevertheless feels that El Cerrito residents continue to shop at the stores that still are available. For relaxation, however, Willie heads off to Berkeley, San Francisco and especially to Yoshi's at Jack London Square, for he loves jazz.

Two important community events in the city of El Cerrito are the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, and the Earth Day Celebration. To Willie, these marvelous events are ones that brings out the participation of the whole city.

There is not a place in the area that makes Willie feel he hasn't the right to go to or be. However, he said that people have attitudes and that sometimes those attitudes can influence a person's choice as to where he should or should not be.

At the present in western El Cerrito, we have an ethnically mixed community of blacks, Asians and Hispanics, and some (but very few) whites. Back in the 1960s when there were the Barrett and Crescent Park homes in Richmond right next to the El Cerrito city line and western El Cerrito, you had a more inclusive community, with a large number of whites as well as blacks, Japanese and other ethnic groups. Even earlier, there were wartime housing projects in the area, but they were torn down in 1954-55 and the Barrett and Crescent Park homes, followed by Laurel Park, were built where these wartime projects had been. In addition, individual homes were built on unoccupied land. Stege School was already there, and had been a service to the people living in that school boundary, including in the housing projects. After the Barrett and Crescent Park homes were built, some people began to move out of the area, especially whites, in part due to issues that arose about the schools and other matters. By them leaving, that left the surrounding area including Western El Cerrito with a larger minority population.

Recalling important and interesting people from his community, Willie mentions the Neighborhood Council of which he is a member. St. Peter's CME Church has opened its doors for all neighborhood council meetings. Willie names a few of the initial people who guided the neighborhood before the neighborhood council started in 1983. He also remembers others who gave their time and energy and vision to western El Cerrito and helped western El Cerrito to be heard, and people who helped get the issues affecting the neighborhood addressed by the El Cerrito City Council. These people were as follows:

Charlene Bradford and Ophelia Christian

Patricia and Eddie Durham

Barbara Davis

James & Lucille Hardy

Mrs. H. Murray

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Philip Moore

There are many more people (Chuck Lewis, ex-mayor of El Cerrito; Norma Jellison, ex-councilmember and mayor; and Jean Siri, ex-mayor, and Judge Charles Wilson)—these people were always willing to listen, and to follow up on any issues that were a concern to the citizens here in western El Cerrito

When the western El Cerrito Neighborhood Council began, it would have 40-50 people at its meetings but now, because the population of the area is aging, many people no longer have the good health necessary to allow them to attend. However, it should be noted that their lack of attendance does indicate any lack of support for the issues that the neighborhood council addresses and takes a position on.

If Willie had a magic wand he would change general attitudes--his wish is that people would learn to recognize and respect others. In addition, he would give El Cerrito citizens better choices for available services, etc. such as improving our schools. He would also like to see the city make better use of its tax base.

 

CELEBRATING CULTURE & COMMUNITY (CC&C)

1900 International MarketPlace, San Pablo, CA., 94806

(510) 236-3255; fax (510) 236-3068

e-mail: CCandC_97@yahoo.com


Run dates: 2000-01-01 - 2000-02-01
 


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