By Kathy Chouteau
When Richmond community members need a helping hand, they know just who to call: Antwon Cloird. At age 57, Cloird has lived in every part of Richmond in a timeframe spanning five decades. Not surprisingly, the longtime resident dons many hats, ranging from community organizer to homeless coordinator, to the founder of the Community Alliance Group and Men and Women of Purpose, to crisis first responder to West County supervisor for Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) and co-founder of Soulful Softball Sunday—to scratch the surface.
As part of the Standard’s Black History Month series, we caught up with Cloird to get his insights. Here’s what he had to say:
What does Black History Month mean to you? “Well our history means to me to be empowered. But our community is not empowered with Black history information. So, I’m a person that I want to believe what I’m taught. I was not taught [that] Black history is a lot of things about my history…”
“I’m gonna be honest with you. How can you say Black History Month and give us 28 days to celebrate…” said Cloird. “So when I say Black history, I mean, what’s the history? Where do I see my people? For right now, okay. I mean, we all know we don’t own anything, so when you look into the future and say history, what is the legacy of the Black community gonna be? It’s gonna be incarceration. People got paid off our pain and misery. They never assessed the Black community, they addressed the Black community.”
“A lot of history is stuff on a paper…I had all the information of what Black people participated in [throughout] history, and I had no clue, you know? So we’ve been coming up and feeling like you didn’t really have the full story of what Black history was about…the information that they gave us was Martin Luther King. When Martin Luther King got us together and organized all the Black communities, our churches had power. Power politically.”
Cloird feels the Black community of that time was somewhat “disconnected to politics.” “[They said] it’s time to vote; do all the voting and do all this other stuff. How does it affect our community? People don’t care because it doesn’t trickle down to them.”
“It was never impactful to me as a young Black man coming up,” added Cloird, who pointed to former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Mike Tyson and the late poet Maya Angelou as being his heroes from his viewpoint growing up in Richmond.
“You’re not supposed to bring the leaders down who try to make a difference, [but] do we keep looking in the rearview mirror? I’m living in the now; I want to stop our kids from shooting each other every day. The homicide rate is sky high, incarceration sky high…”
“Look at what we’re standing at now. It’s like we went…40 years backwards,” said Cloird. “Look at mass incarceration, right? Mass incarceration was given to the Black community.”
Cloird, as the founder of Men and Women of Purpose, said he had difficulty finding funding for the organization at first, which he said was “the first Black organization that went inside the prison,” underscoring some of the roadblocks the Black community often encounters.
“I had to go into [Supervisor] John Gioia’s office and explain to him to so we [could] be funded to serve our people. The organization that I built, I will stay solution oriented, period. I am not and will not be a part of anything that’s not going to elevate and enhance a person’s life,” Cloird added.
What has your experience been as a Black person living here for 50 years? “I survived Richmond, survived ‘the Cowboys,’” said Cloird, referencing an organized white supremacist group embedded within the Richmond Police Department in the 1980s. “There was a fascist war in the ‘80s.”
“When President Ronald Regan put the ‘War on Drugs’ out [in the 1980s], they hit Richmond. So when you talk about regions, and you start in Black communities, it destroyed the community where they had to transform into illegal activity to survive. And that’s what happened here; they put Hilltop Mall away from the Black communities [and] it destroyed all the businesses in the Black community,” reflected Cloird on his time coming up as a young man in Richmond.
“They were able to move the freeway from Richmond, to there because it was closer to get off the freeway to go to Hilltop Mall, than it was to go to downtown Richmond,” recalled Cloird, who added that “it destroyed a whole downtown area. Everybody moved to the mall.”
“And you’ll never get back to that point [downtown], because the Black people have moved…So the numbers are not Black.”
Later, Cloird added, “my glory is my story…I survived.”
Is there a part of Richmond’s Black heritage that is particularly meaningful to you? Cloird was quick with his answer: The North Richmond blues club scene, which was particularly lively during the 1940s through the 1960s, with Cloird recalling it still being active even into the 1970s.
“North Richmond was where Black people generated when they came from the South. “That’s where we all migrated to because, back then, we couldn’t go past 16th Street,” Cloird said, because they were afraid of the police at that time. “You had the Candlelight [the Bamboo Cabaret], we had CJs. You had many entertainment facilities in Richmond and it was a place for our community.” Cloird also mentioned Minnie Leus as another club top blues singers of the day would appear at to provide nightly entertainment. Top blues musicians like Jimmy McCracklin, Lowell Fulson, T-Bone Walker, Sugar Pie DeSanto and more popular acts were known to have come to town back then.
“It was a vibrant town; it wasn’t like it is now.”
Who are some other Black leaders—of any age—within or outside of Richmond who inspire you and why? Cloird pointed to Jerrold Hatchett, a.k.a. “the godfather,” retired from Sims Metal, as his mentor, also tipping his hat to other Richmond notables, including: Joe Fisher; Dr. Keith Carson; Dr. Otis Rounds; Pastor Richardson; Pastor Newsom; Pastor Tommy Bradford; as well as Fred Jackson. Cloird also fondly mentioned Alberta Jean Smith, a teacher at then-Gompers Continuation School, as being another inspirational person in his life.
What is your hope for the future of the Black community in Richmond? “Well, [there] ain’t gonna be too many of us left when they get done. I’m just keeping it real,” said Cloird. “I know they don’t have job opportunities and adequate housing,” he added, underscoring his point.
And the biggest thing that we have in our community is housing suppression…In the Black community is [what we call] housing suppression: Black people don’t own the home, they rent their home,” said Cloird.
“We gotta leave. We gotta get out of here. Yeah, so, every day, you know, I see families, getting out of here, you know, and homeless, because they lose their homes because of rent,” Cloird said. “They’re not looking at the homeless population here in Richmond. It’s getting bigger, it’s not getting smaller.”
So Cloird’s greatest hope for the Black community in Richmond? “A place to live, you know, low-income housing [where] everyone can have a place to live.”