Eugene Prince Coleman died Oct. 26, surrounded by his family, after losing a battle against pancreatic cancer. It was one of the few fights that he lost in his long and memorable life in San Francisco.
Born in Mississippi 70 years ago and raised in Cleveland, Coleman came to San Francisco in 1972 and, like many in that decade, found a home in the city. He never left and never, ever quit working to make it better.
Coleman was one of the creators of modern, tolerant, progressive San Francisco. His decadelong service to South of Market as director of the Canon Kip Community House (until it was closed as the Episcopal Church turned away from the central city) was a model of dedicated, informed, and effective advocacy and service. He founded the first paratransit service for seniors in San Francisco. He presided over one of the most dynamic and well-attended youth-serving community centers in the city, which provided safe, secure, and supportive space for an entire generation of Filipino youths. He almost single-handedly got the South of Market Health Center up and running, serving seniors and families.
And when urban renewal devastated South of Market, Coleman provided space and support, counsel, know-how, and a patience that bested the saints themselves in helping to create one of the most effective community campaigns against redevelopment in the nation. Some 2,000 low-income senior homes were rebuilt, and a new capacity to develop community-controlled affordable housing was created, in large measure due to Coleman's wisdom and vision.
Thousands of San Franciscans who never knew his name owe Coleman for the dignity and grace that well-organized substance-abuse, residential-treatment, and food and health programs have provided them at his insistence as he helped build the infrastructure of a substance-abuse policy that is known nationwide as the San Francisco model.
Coleman spent the past decade or so working for the city, bringing to his job the keen judgment and the caring heart that so characterized his service to the community. He demanded that all people youths and seniors, black, brown, and white, working-class and poor be treated with respect and courtesy, warmth and love, and that they, in turn, treat one another the same way. Coleman was also an African American who never once gave up on the African American community or the needs of his people, and fought and talked and thought and cried for their continued survival in San Francisco.
He was simply a quintessential late-20th-century San Franciscan who gave back more than he took, cared more than he probably should have, and was one of the finest people to ever walk these sometimes mean and uncaring streets with a demeanor that was always sweet and caring. *
Calvin Welch worked with Gene Coleman for 30 years and was blessed by his friendship.
A memorial for Coleman is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Nov. 1 at Providence Baptist Church, 1601 McKinnon, SF.