The Tough House

Mad Man Marlon - Posted on 29 December 2010


“I want the community in general to wear their rights (laminated “Know Your Rights” cards) on their chest. I want mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, nephews, nieces, and children. I don’t want anyone left out!”


This is the mission statement from Jamal James Modica, founder of the “Tough House Project.” It was in reference to his idealistic goal for the community of San Francisco Bay view Hunter’s Point to combat numerous issues in his neighborhood, including po-lice terrorism.

Community can mean unity for us all, on local and global levels. It begins with the “I” voice, ending with we as a community.

An example is the voices of the Race, Media, and Poverty Scholars (and this Revolutionary Legal Scholar) of POOR Magazine/POOR News Network. Every voice from us empowered our writings in our articles. Art and poetry is fighting, resisting, and healing. Our own self-scholarship developments to challenge "academia courses" and "formal institutions for learning."

Self-empowerment from the workforce apartheid here in AmeriKKKa, via entrepreneurship. Our re-port for, and sup-port of community actions against injustices. Our lives heard, undetermined and deterred by corporate mainstream media.

We hear it within ourselves, then shared with and educated to the world:


“P-O-O-R, scholars till we die! The revolution begins with I!”

(And it ends with we!)


A young man of African Descent origin, by the name of Jamal James Modica exemplifies this as a living testament of sorts stemming from organizing, caring, safeguarding, and loving his community of Bay View Hunter’s Point. A community, non-exempt from poverty, violence, racism, po-lice terrorism, gentrification, institutionalized ignorance, displacement, and demonizing media coverage.

Jamal, however, deeply expresses and displays numerous ideas he has for his community to implement change from the said above. One of them is called “The Tough House Project,” a non-profit grassroots organization he founded in 2001. It is based here in San Francisco Bayview Hunter’s Point. “The Tough House, because there is nothing tougher than growing up in the projects.” Jamal says, wittingly. He grew up in “West Point Projects” in Bay view Hunter’s Point.

Currently, it is under “redevelopment” codified as “gentrification” from Lennar Corporation.

On December 7th, Jamal attended our Indigenous News-Making Circle, the Community Newsroom to share with everyone about the goal for his project. He was accompanied with his comrade and management assistant of The Tough House Project, Tanya Joseph. Jamal was referred to us by my comrade, mesha Monge-Irizarry, founder/director of the Idriss Stelley Foundation, a week prior.

I followed up with Jamal and Tanya on December 21st to get a more in depth detailed overview of the Tough House Project, and about Jamal James Modica, himself. While working on this project he founded in 2001, Jamal also worked full-time as a staff member at the San Francisco Society of Prevention to Animal Cruelty. (SF/SPCA) He loves animals, which prompted him for this position.

Jamal especially loves pit bulls, in which he stated are called “Bully Breeds.” Members of the SF/SPCA often refer this nickname to rottweilers, dobermans, and bull terriers.

Jamal recalled how he was viewed by his co-workers as someone who could “handle the dogs” because most of them were taken from the street. Jamal, himself, is from the neighborhood. “I came from the same streets that the dogs came from. If you don’t know what he (the dog) has gone through, then how can you rehabilitate that dog?” He would sometimes work overtime if necessary.

Jamal would then tell me what it was like for him, within the aura of the atmosphere inside his occupation. He was practically the only young man of African descent origin in this occupational setting. None of his co-workers lived in his neighborhood.“I was the only black kennel attendant there (SF/SPCA).”

He recalls. “It was more or less a cultural shock to me. It was hard to identify with everyone there. They had a negative outlook of the community I call home.” Despite those barriers, Jamal loved his position, and gained numerous skills from this overlooked profession.

Jamal felt that his co-workers had a very negative outlook on his community. He explained to me that there seemed to be a nexus of sorts regarding comparisons: The behaviors, characteristics, and the nature of dogs to young black men. Jamal remembered an issue that arose in 2001 regarding pit bulls attacking people on the street.

The media quickly demonized neighborhoods like Jamal’s by equipping their "news coverages" of negative stereotypes such as “dog fighting” and “bad breeding” by gang members, drug dealers, etc, etc. "The reality is that dog fighting has been taking place for generations" Jamal said.

I personally concur to his statement.

It’s amazing to me of how it seems to be a metaphorized implant into the minds of many as to how "wild animal behavior" and their characteristics are so swiftly associated with people. Particularly to the eye and mind of the ignorant and racist a black person plus an ape, plus a gorilla and a coon equals imminent danger.

I also feel pitting all animals against another for purposes of profit, and sport is flat out cruel, but not unusual.

Entertainment enslavement: Zoos, circuses, rodeos, cockfighting among others are really no different than slavery for sport in my eyes.

Jamal talked about the importance of protection among the youth by means of having a dog by their side, even at the age of 13. A defense mechanism from harm.

“Because of reported dog attacks, guns are their only option.” He explained. “If you can’t even carry a pit bull for protection, how else do you think people are going to protect themselves?” he asked, rhetorically.

The Tough House Project effectively tackled “dog fighting” issues in his neighborhood. His full-time position as a kennel attendant at S.F/SPCA, however, would end abruptly. The reason, according to Jamal was his refusal to an offer proposed to him by S.F/SPCA of $80,000 in exchange for their ownership of The Tough House Project.

Jamal would later go on to be elected to the San Francisco Commission of Animal Control and Welfare in 2002. In an ironic twist of events, the SF/SPCA sought support from him. “Instead of me asking for a paycheck from them, they were now asking me for a vote for funding.” He said to me, jokingly.

His project has received media attention from outlets such as Dog Fantasy Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, was featured on Kron-TV Channel 4 and KTVU Channel 2.

The painful reality of classism would clash with cultural fashion, as he was sworn in for his elected chair of the commission. Jamal remembers just how the Board of Supervisors was rather “displeased” with the attire he wore. “I was wearing a football jersey bearing my neighborhood name, while they were dressed to impress.”

For me, image says a lot about someone, but it doesn’t say everything about someone and/or everyone.

Undesired images often conclude with unfair immediate judgments, assumption, profiling, and even death. All I know all too well as a victim of racial profiling by members of the San Francisco Police Department, five years ago.

Jamal also wore a “choke chain” (dog leash) to honor all of the pitbulls that were either locked up or “put to sleep.”(Death)

The main objective for the Tough House Project is to give the community a voice. “How do we teach the children in our community about being able to live through violence?” is Jamal’s rhetorical question to the world.

At POOR, we believe that there is more than one way to teach and educate to the masses of people. All youths are scholars.

“There is more than one way to teach political consciousness. The revolution can also come through Hollywood bling, performances, storytelling, poetry, film, and art.” Late great poverty hero, Mama Dee Gray once said.

We heed and feed off of her words each day.

One idea, Jamal presented is through poster art that speaks to violence that undoubtedly will come their way. On the poster are steps he’s implemented for these goals to be successful in ultimately ending violence:

“Rule#1 Stop Right Away! Rule#2 Hands up, Never Touch It! (anything harmful) Rule#3 Walk Away From the Area!” Rule#4 Get Mom or Dad for Help!”

“The Tough Talk Neighborhood Newsletter” is another formulative step of The Tough House Project to give young people a voice they seldom receive in schools and media. “The Team Skills Challenge” is to teach them how to be creative in entrepreneurship and self-dependency. There is also a project in collaboration of “The Tough House Project” by his manager assistant and comrade, Tanya Joseph for relationship counseling.

It is meant to help all young women, and to empower themselves from all sorts of abuse. It was started by Tonya in 2008. “Let go, Let God. Instead of listening to what men tell them, let God lead their heart.” Is the message from Tonya in her words of encouragement from discouragement she offers them.

Jamal is currently in the early stages of steps to combating po-lice terrorism in his neighborhood from the San Francisco Police Department. One is for community members to wear laminated “Know Your Rights Cards” on their chests for every encounter with an S.F.P.D. Po-lice Officer or officers.

Another is the use of armor (bullet-proof vests) to greatly reduce the deaths in Bayview Hunter’s Point from gun violence and unjustified po-lice killings. Far too long now, “Stolen Lives” has devastated poor communities locally and whereas globally. He is optimistic and hopeful that his project can be a model for us all as a community.

Most recently, Jamal released "Abandoned by Hope, Survived by Faith." It is a three-sectioned film documentary that features the testimonies of community members of Bayview Hunter's Point, and others within the Bay Area. His motivation for the film:

"It is because of all of the broken promises of change for people in poverty in San Francisco and Bayview Hunter's Point."

For more information on The Tough Project, please go to

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
Audre Lorde; writer, poet, and activist

Love to the crew at POOR! Keep it going.


Sign-up for POOR email!