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Movers & Shakers: Reasons To Be Proud

By Julissa James

Bay Area high achievers on our radar this month are standing up for movements that matter.

 

Ahmed Muhammad

“This school is over 100 years old — in the middle of Oakland — so I’m really surprised that there hasn’t been a Black male valedictorian before,” says Ahmed Muhammad, the 18-year-old who recently assumed the title at Oakland Tech, in an interview with CBS News. A point guard for the Bulldogs’ varsity team and an aspiring engineer, Muhammad made history when he was accepted to 11 universities, including Harvard, Howard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Princeton and Columbia. (Our sources tell us he’s planning to go to Stanford.) Muhammad’s academic journey has been studded with impressive extracurriculars, including founding the nonprofit Kits Cubed, which creates accessible science projects for kids interested in STEM — an initiative he plans to continue as he goes off to college. As Muhammad’s father told Good Morning America, “That’s what I like most about my son — he’s a giver.”

Melonie and Melorra Green

Melonie and Melorra Green have been named the public poll choice for this year’s Pride community grand marshals. The 43-year-old twins and queer women run the African American Art and Culture Complex in the Western Addition, and have become staples and mentors in San Francisco’s arts scene for their work uplifting the Black and LGBTQ+ communities. Originally from Memphis, Melonie and Melorra have lived in the City for two decades and have produced over 80 exhibitions — they’ve also never been separated for more than two and a half weeks in their entire lives. Melorra is the co-curator of the show The Black Woman is God, which was a standout at the AAACC and SOMArts; and together, they curated Don’t Shoot: An Opus of the Opulence of Blackness for the Museum of the African Diaspora. Of their recent honor, Melorra notes, “San Francisco Pride has been a destination for people all over the world. But when they show up, what did they see? What did they feel? It has not always felt like a space for people of color or a safe space for Black people. We want to bring out the message of LGBTQ pride and equity, reminding everyone that the mission is not complete and needs to pivot.”

Alex the Great

Who could forget the words of Giants announcer Duane Kuiper that rang out over Oracle Park in April: “Am I hallucinating or did I just see a rabbit?” Spoiler alert: Alex the Great, a caramel-colored Flemish Giant wearing a bow tie, was in fact in the stands that day. Alex belongs to Josh Row and Kei Kato, a former restaurant owner who lost her business because of the pandemic. She adopted Alex at 1 month as a therapy animal (he’s now 4 and a half months old). It was his first visit to Oracle Park — and Oracle Park’s first time having a rabbit in its stands ever, according to spokesperson Staci Slaughter. But Alex had been on adventures like this before — from NASCAR races, kayaking and snow tubing to sightseeing in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Tahoe. Just last month, Alex made his triumphant return to Bay Area sports when he attended a Warriors game at Chase Center. Keep up with him on Instagram: @alex.thegreat100.

Cynthia Choi

Cynthia Choi, co-founder and co-executive director of the reporting center Stop AAPI Hate and the co-director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, has been an instrumental figure in raising awareness about the vitriolic rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the last year and a half. Choi and her collaborators from San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department, as well as the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council and CAA, launched AAPI Hate in March 2020 after seeing a rise in news reports about attacks on Asian Americans. The organization’s website allows visitors to report incidents of hate against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities (through a form available in 11 languages). “People came on to our site … to say: I want to be a part of this collective voice, to say: This happened to me, this happened to my family,” Choi said in a recent interview on the podcast “Our America With Julián Castro.” In March of this year, Stop AAPI Hate released a national report that shows a disturbing spike in cases — from 3,795 to 6,603 in that month alone. “This is something that I think we should all be concerned about,” Choi said to Cheddar News. “Not just Asian Americans.”

Richard Mayhew

A towering green tree. A peach and lilac sky. A neon-gold lawn. Soquel artist Richard Mayhew’s Perennial Sentinel (2000) is instantly recognizable to those familiar with the artist’s fuzzy, colorful abstract landscapes. Last month, Perennial Sentinel was one of six Mayhew paintings that were part of a major gift to SFMOMA on behalf of collectors and philanthropists Pamela Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida. (The gift also includes pieces by other Black artists, including Loïs Mailou Jones, Hughie Lee-Smith, Herbert Gentry and Elizabeth Catlett.) SFMOMA exhibited Mayhew’s six works (plus one more) at one of its galleries in April, ahead of the artist’s 97th birthday. “I’m very pleased that this has taken place, and it has to do with Pamela Joyner,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. Mayhew still paints landscapes every day in his studio with jazz playing in the background, according to a September interview with Hyperallergic. “What I do with landscapes,” Mayhew told the publication, “is internalize my emotional interpretation of desire, hope, fear and love. So, instead of a landscape, it’s a mindscape.”

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