John Wagers was a long time family friend. In the 70's my mother had a house cleaning service and worked for John cleaning the apartments he owned. Coming from a large family my mom taught my siblings I how to clean and keep our home in order. Occasionally she took us with her to John's buildings and put us to work. This happened through out my childhood and teenage years. Of course we couldn't stand doing this as it was an extension of our dreaded chores. Once I angrily and militantly asked my mother, 'Mama, why are you still working for that white man'? I was disgusted at the idea of my mother, a black woman, still doing domestic work for a white man. These roles were historically abusive, demeaning, and one of the few jobs available to black women. What I didn't know then was my mother's plan to be self sustainable. This was merely a step to get where she was going. One of the stops in her destination of sustainability was opening her own business, the Neighborhood Wash & Dry in east Oakland. Although she no longer worked for him, John would stop by her business and they would "talk shop" about customer trends, property upgrades and what not.
I later realized that my mom and John shared a lot of the same interest in the need to care for our planet. Gardening, composting, recycling cans, bottles, newspapers, not wasting water and electricity were practices that I learned as a child and find great value in today. Not only did I experience this in my home but it was mirrored when we occasionally visited John. When I think of today's popular 99 cent only and grocery outlet stores I think of back to the 80's when my mom and John would have an outing and she would bring home these odd grocery items. She explained to the family of how grocery stores waste a great deal of food by throwing items away when they were not "saleable" but these items were ok to consume. I remember how passionate she was about this wasteful behavior and seemed happy to do her part to help alleviate the problem. Now, I see chain stores all over the country doing big business in what my mom and John saw as something that needed attention decades ago. John and my mother were ahead of their time in many ways.
When I was 19 years old John came to my going away party. With a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City I was leaving my home town of Oakland, California to pursue my dreams of being a professional dancer. In the above photo John is looking at photographs with my friend Muziki as I, (in the blue & pink jump suit), and mentor Brenda Payton talk at the dining room table.
Fast forward about 30 years, I bought a Victorian house in West Oakland. John was the type of family friend that would talk to me about important issues in being a property owner. I invited him and of course he came to my house warming party to celebrate being a first time home buyer. One of my goals in home ownership was to have rental property. There is a lower unit on the street level of my property to serve that purpose. I was surprised when this cool 5 bedroom unit was difficult to rent out. I quickly shifted the plan and staged the the unit and began renting out rooms to the international community of artist and activist I garnered being a community organizer and, performance and visual artist. John was impressed with this. Anything he saw in the news about Airbnb he would call and share this with me me and asked how my new business venture B-Love's Guest House was doing. 'Your doing a great thing Traci', he would always say.
John was a great friend an ally. He was long time advocate of the prohibition of marijuana, again, a man ahead of his time. He and I had many conversations about politics, policy, culture, and secular humanism vs spirituality. When my brother went to prison John voiced his criticism of America's Industrial Prison complex and always wanted to know how my brother was doing. Sharing similar political views John called me one day telling me, 'you should get Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow. The prison system in this country is corrupt and a huge waste of tax payers money'. 'Yes, John', I told him, 'I already have a copy of the book'. Many of our views were in alignment. Once, my boyfriend and I accompanied John to an annual meeting for the ACLU. He was a liberal thinker that supported many causes for social change.
I also found John to be a hilarious individual. He often amused and made me laugh even in tough times. He once accompanied me to visit my brother in Santa Rita jail. We decided to take BART and a Lyft to avoid the traffic. As we sat on a bench on the platform, across from us on the other side of the tracks were a group of turf dancers warming up to do one of their shows on the train. As a community organizer and youth advocate I knew of few of the dancers and we waved at each other. 'O.G.', one of the young dancers shouted across the train tracks giving me my props as an elder in the community. I stood up and danced a little bit. John got excited and said, 'you should battle them'. HILARIOUS! I laughed and danced a little more but my purse with long strap draped across my shoulder was getting in the way. 'I'll hold your purse', John said. Again, hilarious of him to say that! So I handed him my purse and exchanged a few moves with the dancer until John and I's train came. The picture of John holding my purse and smiling with joy as he watched us dance is just unforgettable.
I'm grateful to have known this man for so long. He was a friend and mentor I have great respect for. This is a man that lived a long and impactful life and I'm sure there are many stories from many people about the positive ways he contributed to the world. My condolence to the family, friends, and supporters of John Wagers. Rest in peace my friend! Thank you for all your contributions.