By Mike Kinney
When A.J. Jelani was growing up in project housing in San Francisco, his family couldn’t afford Christmas gifts, so his sister found an old toy gun, rubbed Vaseline on it to make it shiny and new, and made it a gift from Santa.
Jelani said he showed off the gift to his friends, but added, “I never want any child to feel the way I did.”
Today, Jelani is a Richmond resident who serves as president of the Belding-Woods Neighborhood Council and his highly active in the community. He’s known for mentoring neighborhood children, and organizing memorable Christmas giveaways and block parties for hundreds more.
One of his more recent contributions is the nonprofit organization A.J./Sealcraft, which honors African American individuals, organizations, groups and businesses who contributed to empowering fellow African Americans to improve their communities, much like Jelani has done.
Recipients of the award have included Michelle Milam, the City of Richmond’s highly active Crime Prevention Manager, as well as Lt. Ernest Loucas for their community service.
The Belding-Woods Neighborhood Council votes each September on who will be honored for the annual award. Nominations are based on outstanding community service to the Belding-Woods neighborhood, Richmond or West County.
Jelani said God guided him to design the Seal, an image he copyrighted in August 2013.
A.J./Sealcraft recognizes and honors the wide variety of contributions by African Americans, to ensure that their history is both told and recognized, Jelani said. The organization’s Seal is an expression of faith, culture, history and hope. The drawing places the African continent inside of the U.S.
“I was inspired by the plight of the enslaved African people and the continued present-day loss of history and contributions to America,” he said.
Jelani noted how African Americans helped build many of the important structures in the Bay Area, such as BART and Downtown Napa. He would know, as he was a union member and survey engineer working on those projects.
“We helped build this country,” he said, referring to the Africans brought here as slaves. “The new movement is to respect yourself and your people and be proud of who you are.”
Interested in nominating someone for the A.J. Sealcraft organization or contributing to the nonprofit? Contact Jelani at (510) 932-2072 (leave a message) or email [email protected].
“We give awards to those who truly try and make this world a better place to live for all,” he said.