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A lot of the friends I used to have are in prison or aren’t alive anymore. I’m from Bayview Hunter’s Point, on the southeast side of San Francisco, and it was one of the roughest neighborhoods that anyone can grow up in. The schools weren’t great. The people you hang around weren’t the best. But growing up, I went to the Boys and Girls Club and played competitive ranked tennis, which put me in a different recreational space than the other kids. And I had my father, who owns a painting company in the neighborhood, and he really guided me as best he could. When I saw my friends going down a wrong path, I had to make a decision. It wasn’t the path I wanted.
The turning point for me was when my mother got cancer, and I took time off to take care of her. Then, I saw one of my best friends from childhood pass away. I wanted to do something more for myself, but it’s hard to separate yourself from something you grew up with. Working on the Mission Bay 360 project put me on the other side of that community — I would drive from the inner Bayview Hunter’s Point to outer Bayview Hunter’s Point, where there wasn’t as much going on. Focusing on work put that distance between me and the people who weren’t interested in building something like I was.
I wanted to do something more for myself, but it’s hard to separate yourself from something you grew up with.
In Bayview Hunter’s Point, you’re in a community that’s predominantly African American, there are incarcerated individuals and former — probably active — gang affiliations. And then there are just genuine African American people who want to work and get a job and do better because they want to take care of their family. And that opportunity sometimes is the union. That’s how I got involved in community building and Aboriginal Blackmen United. We would push for contractors to meet their obligations for community representation, and then negotiate to get us jobs on the projects in our neighborhood. We would point out that they weren’t hiring from the community. These are people who want to work and make competitive wages — give them a chance. Give them the opportunity to be successful.
That's kind of what I wanted. I wanted to move out of the neighborhood, and I wanted to be able to say to my kids that where I grew up- anything is possible. Having those allies really helped individuals like myself and others from disadvantaged communities get jobs.
My grandmother owned a limousine company when I was growing up, and every day she would take me and my brother to the airport because that's where most of her business was at the time. And she would ask us what we wanted to be when we were growing up. My brother swore up and down he wanted to be a pilot. I swore up and down I wanted to be the president. I may have missed my chance with that one, but knowing my name was Master and where it came from — jack of all trades, master of none is what my parents said — I just wanted to be good at whatever came my way. Whether it was playing tennis, learning construction, painting, whatever it was, I wanted to be really, really good at it. To master the craft.
Master Rhodes is a superintendent on our Portico project at Treasure Island in San Francisco. He continues his community engagement by helping to lead Suffolk’s African American Black Emerging Leaders Business Resource Group.
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