A Mama's Love..

root - Posted on 01 January 2000

Lula Bell Seymour aka Mama, an African-American houseless elder passes away in the Tenderloin - loved by all who she touched

by Valerie Schwartz/PoorNewsNetwork Community Journalist and Poverty Scholar

I Remember my Mama

In the Bean field, The Potato field

Sending us to school to learn our A B C’s

Keeping the Camp Fire’s Burning

We did not know Much about city livin’

In fact I didn’t know much ;of anythin’

Except a Mother’s Love

If we did without

It was with Style and Grace

No Complaints

Doing without was no disgrace

As I sit here reminissin'- Life goin on by

I have Strength and Courage

Instilled in me!

For times of sorrow

And times of joy

Although I shed tears, I Radiate Joy

When I am Low I remember my Mama....

excerpt from the poem My Mama My Ancestor by A. Faye Hicks/Po' Poets Project

About two-years ago on a somewhat hazy morning in the Tenderloin, the sun was ambivalent about trying to make an appearance on the 200 block of Hyde Street. I was reclining against the fence. I was sick and could barely move and the light that shone on me was from Lula B. Seymore, better known as Mama. "What's wrong, Sugar?" she asked me with that sweet voice that was always maternal and then added, "It's not like you to be laying down out here." I had a staff infection that was attempting a coup d' etat on my right leg, which I have ongoing vascular trouble/ulcers with. Mama went to her van and got out some aspirin, peroxide, ointment, and some clean socks and jeans for me. I managed to get up and go to the store to buy some Band-Aids with money she had given me. We talked for a while and when I felt strong enough, she then sent me packing down the street, care-package in hand, with instructions to, "Go get cleaned up and come back up here." Although I barely had the energy, I followed the instructions given and back to the corner I went. This is only one of many times that Mama helped me.

I can't remember exactly when it was that I met Mama, an African-American elder, who had resided in the Bayview-Hunters Point district of San Francisco for several years working as a housekeeper for Children's Hospital, among other labor intensive jobs, before she became houseless or what we at POOR call, "Vehicularily Housed." It seems as though I had seen her around the Tenderloin and adjoining Market St. area for awhile. I would give a "guesstimate" it was the spring of 1998 when we first actually talked. It was on the corner of Hyde and Turk. This corner was a veritable sidewalk-mall whose proprietors were primarily homeless people. I have lived in the Tenderloin neighborhood for twenty-two years and therefore I know it very well. It has a high rate of crime, addiction, and despair as most areas of poverty do.

On that fateful day, my co-worker was inside the copy shop next to the Midori Hotel at Turk and Hyde streets getting copies made for my boss at the time; we did all the maintenance, painting, and whatever else was needed to be done in a nearby apartment building. As I waited, I sat on a milk crate playing some blues tunes on my guitar when Mama stepped out of the front door of her home, a dark green van. She made eye contact with me and gave a short but hearty little laugh while straightening her wig and said, " Hello, I'm Mama...That's what we need around here... a little music to soothe ourselves, praise the Lord." Mama then started, while humming, to set up her little sidewalk re-creation of a Goodwill store. She set down some blankets and then set the clothes and miscellaneous items she had to sell on top of them. We talked for a few minutes as she swept the sidewalk around her "store" and then it was time for me to get back to work.

After our first discussion, most every time I was on the corner, Mama and I would talk or exchange our "hellos" in passing. We forged a friendship on that corner. I started taking all the things that the former tenants had left behind or threw out and gave them to her so she could sell them, rather than take it to the dump. Eventually my boss became ill, was hospitalized, and I was back on the street again. Mama helped me through those times when I needed it and when I didn't.

Mama dealt with being poor everyday. When you are poor there are no days off. She fed and gave clothing to many of us who were, and still, are out there living on the streets. I remember how she used to pull out her little barbecue grill and make everything she could with what she had: soups, a pot of beans, sometimes chicken. She always shared with someone. Mama would not allow people to get high or sell dope next to her van. I remember her frustration with people sometimes; she also would never curse, but prayed instead. Mama always prayed, she prayed for everyone, myself included, and pray she did. Her faith was unyielding. There were days when she was hurt and angered with me for I was such a slave to my addiction. She wouldn't speak to me, or would tell me to come back later, and that was enough to shame me in ways that many could not. I'd walk away and she would tell me, "You got to fight those demons girl...now go." And as I walked I could hear her praying...

Rarely would anyone talk crazy to Mama, for most of us out there respected her and helped her in return. We wasn't havin' no-one "dis" Mama! I had seen the police give her tickets for selling her wares on the sidewalk without a permit. Some of them left her alone but when she would see them coming she got busy and put everything away quickly, and then they might still give her a parking ticket. I also know that some of the police used to "hassle" her for living in her van. Mama did not want to live in a "care-facility" and unfortunately I am afraid that she, as many elders do, felt it was not a choice.

As a person who is disabled, has been homeless, and is poor I have to stop and think about choices. Choices for elders, for the poor, and disabled are not always what I would consider to be choices. They mean having to choose between two-or-more evils. These "choices" are offered by systems that perpetuate poverty. Is it a choice for a person to live in a care facility where they are subject to many different kinds of neglect or suffer a houseless poverty? Is there a choice for elders who are forced into conservatorship by the county, such as Beatrice Sloan of Oakland (another African-American elder confined to a care facility and robbed of her assets by Government programs set up to "care for" elders which POOR Magazine has been advocating for)? Writes my colleague Ashley of POOR, " The nursing home industry is another form of big business disguised as hellthcare." Thus our elders are losing what they have worked earnestly and hard to keep and maintain: A family, a good home and integrity.

When I had the pleasure of attending Mama's memorial service last week, presented by the Faithful Fools Street Ministry where several family and friends spoke and presented words of grace in Mama's memory, more questions arose: Why did Mama have to leave after residing in her Bayview-Hunter's Point home for so long and what made her "choose" to live in her van? Some reports say that she was evicted due to an Owner-Move-In- Eviction. Some say it was her choice because she didn't want to live in a care facility. Was Mama facing a possible case management or conservatorship issue? Being told that she was a "very independent person", for me, does not answer the question, because of course, for poor folks, there is always the issue of shame. This society tells us it is bad to be poor - that something is wrong with you - not the people evicting you - not the system taking your assets - redlining your districts, employing you at nothing wages, and then criminalizing your poverty.

Being that I was in the dregs of my addiction I used to find myself in awe of Mama sometimes, that she had good boundaries and kept her faith intact. It just blew my mind that a homeless senior woman, alone, could deal with life out there knowing how harsh and just plain miserable it can often be and maintain a sort of grace, you might say. Yet, she never gave up. And on many days she inspired me to make it through another day in hell with just one of her beautiful grins, her intense, smiling brown eyes, and herself saying, "You stay outta trouble." There have been times since I have been in treatment that I wanted to go talk to Mama and let her know that I was okay. Today I want her to know that some of her prayers most assuredly have been answered, that I have been clean and drug-free for a year, and how very grateful I am for her friendship, love, and boundaries that I now understand. Mama's presence and spirit was always a beacon of light in the tempest of the Tenderloin and she will be missed and remembered by many.

PNN editors note; Mama was a contributor to POOR Magazine vol#4 MOTHERS, and will be included in the Poverty Heroes Anthology which will be released by POOR Press in December -as well, she was a powerful inspiration and friend to POOR mother and daughter editors, Dee and Tiny. If you would like to submit any words or art to POOR about Mama - please call us at (415) 863-6306 - if you would like to visit the Memorial Green Van - you can reach the Faithful Fools at (415) 474-0508 or go to the corner of Hyde and Turk street


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