Bayview Senior Services has a long history of informal intergenerational participation in its programming and had long wanted to create more structured activities that bring people of different generations together. Since 2019 I have been privileged to formalize an intentional InterGenerational Program with an art focus that brings together the Baby Boomer Generation with Gen Z, the newest Generation born between 1995-2015. The project embraces our ancestral oral tradition for our youth while combating social isolation that is deadly to our elders.
We are currently living through unprecedented times. While our world has advanced technologically, we are experiencing a rise in social isolation amplified by the Coronavirus pandemic. Along with the world, I am exploring new ways to foster interpersonal connections while adhering to shelter-in-place orders.
This new challenge has given birth to projects which utilize technology in support of ancient oral traditions. In this space, I’ll be sharing an example of how Bayview Senior Services’ InterGenerational Program is meeting the challenge.
Summoning the power of storytelling, we have engaged some of our seniors to share their experience with students from Meadows Livingstone school via telephone. Through these conversations, built upon questions and answers developed with the school’s staff, seniors shared their personal history. Each question and answer allowed the student and senior to explore forging a connection between the past, present, and future. Both students and seniors are encouraged to create artwork inspired by this project.
To get involved with the InterGenerational program, please contact William Rhodes, Program Coordinator:
email@example.com 1753 Carroll Ave., San Francisco, CA 94124
Meet some of the Interviewers
Meet Some of the Interviewees
Interview with Diane Bennett
By Sol Bowden
SB: Can you tell me your name?
DB: Diane Bennett
SB: Do you know why your family gave you this name?
DB: Bennett is my married name. I took his name when I got married. My family name is Walker.
SB: Can you tell me where you were born? (If not San Francisco when did you move here?)
DB: San Francisco, CA. At San Francisco General Hospital
SB: What year were you born?
SB: Did your family tell you anything about the day you were born?
DB: Not really. My mother didn’t speak a lot about that. It’s just June 25th, not any special holiday.
SB: How large was your family?
DB: My mom had 6 children, 4 girls and 2 boys.
SB: What was it like living in your house with all those people?
DB: There was a lot of women in our family. So, we looked up to women. Being part Indian descent, we kept close, in a circle, because the men were out at work.
SB: What was your favorite movie or book when you were young?
DB: The Christmas Carol
SB: What do you want your children and grandchildren (if you have them) to remember about you?
DB: I do have children, and grandchildren and I have great grandchildren. I have an art ability around making jewelry and color coordination. I would like to share that whatever you do, including going to college, cultivate the arts or a particular skill so that you may have something to fall back on.
SB: How are you doing today?
DB: I’m good. I’m making masks for the seniors. The one for your face. One of the ladies for the senior center helped with it by getting the fabric.
SB: Do you have a sewing machine or do it by hand?
DB: I’m using a sewing machine. Both my grandmothers, mom, and aunts all knew how to sew.
SB: What life advice would you like to share with young people?
DB: To stay together, each one teaches one. If you have a talent that your friend doesn’t have , teach them.
SB: I would like to meet your class. Thank you for this interview.
DB: You’re welcome. Thank you for being present.
Interview with Ms. Sheron Romes
By Malia Morales
MM: Do you know why your family gave you your name?
SR: My parents named me after a flower.
MM: Can you tell me where you were born?
SR: I was born in Chicago, IL, and moved to the Bay Area July 5, 1965.
MM: When’s your birthday?
SR: I was born on June 26, 1955.
MM: How large is your family?
SR: I have 4 bothers, and 2 sisters.
MM: Are you the oldest?
SR: I am the third oldest of seven children.
MM: What was it like to have a lot of siblings?
SR: We were always laughing and having a good time. We enjoyed having their siblings around to play with.
MM: What was your favorite movie or book growing up?
SR: My favorite movie is the Sister Act. We both enjoy Whoopie Goldberg movies.
MM: What were the most memorable events to you when you were growing up?
SR: My most memorable events were spending time with family and playing in the snow back in Chicago. Every summer, my whole family would go to my auntie’s farm and pick apples. We also enjoyed watching our parents kill and pluck the chickens.
MM: Do you have fun picking and harvesting?
SR: Yeah, we had a fun time because my mom had seven kids and my aunt had eight, so there were seventeen children running around.
MM: What did you do for fun when you were a teenager?
SR: I was a nerdy teen. During high school, I joined BSU (Black Student Union), drill team, and continued to attend church every Sunday.
MM: What time did you have to be home at night?
SR: I always had to be home before dark.
MM: Did you ever get in trouble?
SR: Yes. My brother’s girlfriend bribed my with three scoops of ice cream to participate in pranking her mother. The girlfriend lied and said that I had been injured and had been taken to the county hospital for treatment. While walking home with my ice cream, I saw my mom and the community preparing to see me in the hospital, so I ran over and left my ice cream to splat on the sidewalk. I was later punished for participating in the lie.
MM: How did you like to dress?
SR: My mother handmade our clothing, so we dressed cool in original outfits.
MM: What was the fashion back then? And did you ever wear them?
SR: The fashion was hot pants and short skirts but I never wore them.
MM: What were the dances back when you were growing up?
SR: The dances were the mashed potatoes and the twist.
MM: What was your first job?
SR: My first job was babysitting in San Mateo.
MM: What was your favorite job?
SR: My favorite job was being a cashier at a retail store. Now, it’s helping the elderly.
MM: Do you have any kids and grandkids?
SR: I have four daughters, who gave m two granddaughters and two grandsons. I currently live with one of my granddaughters.
Interview with Ms. Jean Wilson
By Axel Palms
I had a conversation with Miss Jean Wilson. “I’m blessed,” she says. “I have emphysema. Thanks to God I’m still here. I’m Miss Jean Wilson. Call me by my first name, Miss Jean. I’m from Texas. You have to call people by Mrs. or Mr.” Miss Jean only has one sibling, her sister Pamela. Pamela is a flight attendant for Delta Airlines. Miss Jean was the only child for 20 years until her sister was born. Miss Jean has first cousins with whom she is very close. They went to the store, movies and they loved each other so dearly. She said we need to get that love back. People need to be kind to each other. “People used to tease me because I was very tall. Children can be so mean to each other. I am a Christian. God made us all to love, love each other, strive for the best, and always hold your head high.” Miss Jean was born in Texas. She moved out to California. Her favorite movie was Imitation of Life, the original version. When she was little she always wished she could have a monkey. She told me to “be kind, be careful, be sweet, be safe.”
Interview with Ms Juanita Jackson
By Isis Shavers
IS: Can you tell me your name?
JJ: Ms Juanita Jackson.
IS: What year were you born?
IS: How large was your family?
JJ: 5 girls 1 boy.
IS: What was your favorite book or movie when you were young?
JJ: She didn’t really have one because she liked a lot.
IS: What was your favorite job?
JJ: Home care provider.
IS: What was your first job?
JJ: File Clerk.
IS: Do you have any children or grandchildren?
JJ: Yes I have grandchildren and children.
IS: What life advice would you like to share with young people?
JJ: Never give up.
Interview with Mr. Ira Watkins
By D’Andrew Shupert-Nadig
DS: Can you tell me your name?
At first I thought my family just picked the name out of the air but I think it was was a relative’s name.
DS: What year were you born?
1938. I was born in Waco, Texas.
DS: When did you move to San Francisco?
He moved to San Francisco around 1957. He came here for an adventure and because it was cheaper to live here.
DS: Did your family tell you anything about the day you were born?
He came from a large family and things about the day he was born never came up.
DS: How large was your family?
I had a large family – 2 brothers and 5 sisters
DS: Were they older or younger?
3 were older – 2 boys and 1 girl
DS: Did you get along with them?
They all got along with each other. They were not a fighting sort of family. They had disagreements from time to time, but never any physical fighting. That is still true today.
DS: Who were your heroes or people you looked up to when you were young?
I looked looked up to my parents when I was young. I admired their strength. I admired other people as well who were strong and stood up for what was right.
DS: What did you do for fun when you became a teenager?
When I was young, I shined shoes for fun and also shot pool.
DS: What time did you have to be home at night?
I had to be home by 5pm.
DS: What was your first job?
I shined shoes when I was young. That was my first job. I also shot pool until I was 25 and made a living shooting pool. Of course, it cost a lot less to live back then and you could get by shooting pool.
DS: Do you have any children and grandchildren?
I have 1 daughter who has 2 children. I also have 2 great grandchildren.
DS: What life advice would you like to share with young people?
I encourage kids to get a good education. A good education will give a child more options when they get older.
Interview with Mr. Alonzo Walker
By Alana Morales
AM: Do you know why your family gave you your name?
AW: I was named after his father’s friend. My full name is Mr. Alonzo Menelik Walker. Menelik was an emperor of Ethiopia.
AM: Can you tell me where you were born?
AW: San Francisco, California, General hospital.
AM: When were you born?
AW: October 9, 1948. I will be turning 72 this year.
AM: Did your family tell you anything about the day you were born?
AW: Only that my birth was premature.
AM: How big is your family?
AW: One brother, two sisters, and myself.
AM: What is your favorite book/movie?
AW: My favorite movie is Muhammad Ali and My favorite book is The Holy Quran.
AM: What did you do for fun as a teenager?
AW: I played sports like track and field and baseball.
AM: Where did you hang out?
AW: I lived in Bayview Hunters Point, so he hung out at the park, libraries, and at my Jr. High school (middle school).
AM: What time would you have to be home at night?
AW: When I was a kid, I had to be home before dark and as a teenager at 9 o’ clock.
AM: Did you ever get in trouble?
AW: Yes, due to peer pressure I ended up in jail.
AM: What were the slang phrases back then?
AW: “What’s up”, “what’s happening”, :going to the crib” (also known as going home).
AM: What were the outfits back then?
AW: We wore polo shirts, leather jackets, with afros and braids.
AM: What was your favorite job?
AW: Working in the post office.
AM: What did you do in the post office?
AW: Sorted, stamped, and loaded mail for delivery.
AM: Did you ever have any children or grandchildren?
AW: No children, I have nieces and nephews only.
AM: What kind of music do you like?
AW: Motown, Smokey Robinson, Supremes and The Temptation!
AM: What do you think about today’s music?
AW: I’m not a big fan of gangster rap. I don’t like how it speaks of “the negatives.” Life should be about “the positive”, of a better human being. Music should inspire you when you’re young.
AM: Who is your favorite president?
AW: Mr. Barak Obama, President Obama is inspiring and encouraging.
AM: What do you think about Michelle Obama?
AW: She is an excellent role model for ladies.
Interview with Mr. Dennis Billups
By Darrow Feldstein
On April 13, 2020, I called up Mr. Dennis Billups to interview him and talk with him about his life. I had never met Dennis nor knew anything about him. When I called, he promptly asked if I knew who he was or anything about his story. I said no and he told me, “you have no ground to stand on. Go and watch the movie “Crip Camp” and call me back.” I was able to ask a few basic questions before we ended the call though. Dennis was born in 1952, the year of the dragon, in San Francisco. He’s lived in SF his entire life. Most of his family is from Texas but they’re now all on the west coast. There are 4 in his immediate family though his sister passed in 2011. She was also blind. Both Dennis and his sister were premature at birth. When they were put in incubators, they received too much oxygen and it burnt his and his sister’s corneas making them blind. Dennis has practiced meditation since being a young child and has put a lot of work and study into spiritual and contemplative study. He is well versed in astrology and numerology among many other schools of thought.
Dennis talked a bit about his work in the disability justice movement and the passage of 504—something I had no knowledge of. The day after our call, I watched the new “Crip Camp” movie and there was Dennis Billups being interviewed! And there was footage of him from the seventies occupying the federal building in San Francisco for 26 days! I realized I was talking with someone who had some real experience with leadership and justice movements.
I called him back the next day and we had a lovely and lively conversation about leadership and inner work, about care for others and about belief in there being something better afoot. He’s really sharp and has such a quick mind. And with someone like Dennis, set interview questions can’t really work. The interviewer must flow with him wherever the energy presents itself. Below is a poem inspired by my time with Dennis which I hope gets to the heart of our conversation together.
Leading from the heart
Harken back to days
when equity was a budding word
when the call to action was heard and lifted up to the light.
This man, no sight, rises to meet
that which is awake inside of him
that which he sees awake in all.
A commitment to inclusion and care,
A discipline for inner work and joy.
What do leaders need today I ask?
What must we learn from the past?
“Open up and listen”, he says
“stay grounded and aware of the call”
“leave no one behind and look out for one another
I witness his wisdom and feel more
than I understand
Keep a laugh on the tip of my tongue
Keep the vision for liberation at the forefront.
This will not be easy,
The tides are shifting
Give thanks for the wisdom keepers
Who generously share.
May I pass forward the messages
and always remain
Interview with Dolores Cunningham
By Jennie Bennett
JB: Do you know why your family gave you your name?
DC: I guess my mother gave me that name because it was beautiful and she just liked it.
JB: How large is your family?
DC: There were 5 girls and I am the oldest.
JB: What was your favorite book growing up?
DC: My favorite book is Black Nigeria.
JB: Who were your heroes/sheroes or people you looked up to?
DC: I really looked up to Dr. Martin Luther King JR and President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
JB: Do you have children or grandchildren?
DC: Yes, I had 3 kids. Sadly, my son died.
JB: What do you want your children and grandchildren to remember about you?
DC: It is important for them to remember how kind I was to everybody. Also how I was able to feed everybody. You know a lot of people don’t have a chance to feed themselves or even their children. I’m so glad that I got that opportunity.
JB: As an older adult what was the most difficult and rewarding time in your life?
DC: Well, when my son died. That was the most difficult time of my life. The most rewarding time for me was when I got to provide for my kids and give them as much as they wanted or needed.
JB: What life advice would you like to share with the younger people of today?
DC: My advice is to be more supportive and kind to people.
Interview with Mary Fleming
By Melodie Kauff
Do you know why your family gave you your name?: Answer is, I guess my mother gave me that name because it was beautiful and that she liked it.
How large was your family?: Answer is, There was 5 girls and Dolores was the oldest.
What was your favorite book growing up?: Answer is, Black Nigeria.
Who were your heroes/sheroes or people you looked up to?: Answer is, MLK and President Kennedy.
Do you have children or grandchildren?: Answer is, Yes, I have 3 kids my son died though.
What do you want your children and grandchildren to remember about you?: How kind I was to everybody. Also how I was able to feed everybody cause a lot of people don’t have a chance to feed themselves or there children. So I’m glad that I got that opportunity.
As an older adult what was the most difficult and rewarding time in your life?: Answer is, when my son died was the most difficult time. Most rewarding to me was when I got to give my kids as much as they want or need.
What life advice would you like to share with the younger people of today?: Answer is, To be more supportive and kind to people.
Interview of Mary Fleming by Melodie Kauff
In the beginning of our conversation Mary shared with me that she has been keeping busy during the time of shelter in place, with her artwork and with calls to friends and family, keeping up on the news and also mindful (and reminding friends) that too much of the news is depressing and repetitive. And keeps her TV tuned mostly to the religious station to be with god.
Name: Mary Fleming- Mary Lou in elementary and junior high, pretty much once I got into high school I dropped the Lou. When somebody hears somebody else say Lou when I didn’t give you that name when I introduce myself to you I prefer you didn’t say it.
Born: San Francisco CA. SF General Hospital. Born and raised in SF, CA. 1947. I’ll be 73 on October the 20th
Who did you look up to when you were younger? My aunt and uncle. My mother grew up under her, and I did too, she was like the head of the house so I looked up to her. She owned her own house and a beauty shop business. She did a lot of traveling, she did a lot of things for us, so I looked up to her. Bertha Hill Randolph. Nobody messed with her. Plus she carried a 45 with her, even thought she was married to Uncle Joe, she was the dominant one.
Siblings: 4 brothers and one sister, 2 of them, my sister and one brother are still alive. Moved a year ago to Las Vegas, we keep up on the phone.
Most difficult and most rewarding: having my daughter. Difficult coming out, beautiful once they’re here. She was a good baby. Very good baby and she’s a beautiful woman now. Her personality, her smile, she treats people right, she’s like me.
Grandchildren: I got one granddaughter, Alicia Butler, one great granddaughter, Sydney Chapman, 33 and 13. They live in the city they come by and do things for me, like maybe take out the garbage or if I want something they go to the store if I don’t feel like going. So pretty much I have everything I need in the house or I FaceTime them if I feel like it so we see each other, or I see them at the bottom of the stairs. I have 18 stairs so I just look down “hello!” from 6 feet away. So yeah, I see them. I haven’t seen the baby girl since, but I talk to her pretty much every other day on the phone.
Every year since she’s been born I make a calendar, so I got a calendar from when she was born all the way up to 13. To have, unless anything destroys it or anything.
How old were you when you got married? I was 18. Started going with my husband when I was 16, got pregnant at 18, and we got married.
Life advice for young people: Get into a good church and start going to church and learn about god. Because we know all the evil that’s out here so learn the other side, the good side of life. Concentrate on god, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. I grew up in church and I got baptized when I think I was about either 8 or 9. With my two cousins and my brother, my oldest brother, 4 of us got baptized on the same day.
What do you want your children and grandchildren to remember: She was a sweet loving grandmother and grandmother. And she loved her God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.
I’m a self-taught artist, just started drawing and got better and better. 2016 started trying to do something. It feels good huh? Especially when it looks like what you’re trying to draw. I started off liking animals more than I got into drawing people and whatever. Pencil and then paint. And then lately I’ve been liking just black and white without the color, but I go into spells. But I do like color. Favorite colors are yellow and red and I think blue.
(I like those colors, fiery and watery)
That’s a hard thing to do, water, to me. I try to practice more and more a little and then I stop. But since talking to you I may try to do that today. Blues, greens, and then that white wave? That’s what I have a problem with, the wave part for some reason. I’ve been practicing on the ocean. Kind of hard to me but I think I might work on that today because I’m talking to you and I’m looking at a picture I took when I was down in Acapulco, it reminds me of Cabo San Lucas, that rock with a hole in it. One of the shots is kind of well-known in different magazines.
(You’ve done some traveling)
Yeah that’s a thing I picked up from my aunt. She travelled a lot. I learned that from my aunt. Besides working, travel. See it and my daughter she used to work a lot, every time from a. teenager she didn’t go to parties she would work before she would go to a party so she worked a lot and I was saying “yaaaay!” Yeah forget the party anyway. So she just worked, worked, worked overtime they could always count on her at her job and stuff. I used to tell her, you can’t just keep working you got to take a trip or whatever now. Now she’s taking vacations. A lot of places I haven’t been because I pretty much like to go down and get on the cruise and go, like, to St. Thomas and all down there. I love the cruise. She’s traveling to other places though. She was supposed to go to Greece this year you know, but that was cancelled until next year. So maybe next year I may go with em!