“My community did not count me out. They continued to invest in me.”
Eddy Zheng, a Commissioner at the Southeast Community Facility, shared his journey in community advocacy and building bridges and healing across cultures in Bayview-Hunters Point.
Incarcerated at 16, Zheng would soon discover his purpose over the next 21 years in prison.
“While I was serving my sentence, I invested in my education. That was how I was able to gain my mental freedom even before I received my physical freedom,” said Zheng. “Transformation is possible. When people are given culturally-competent resources and opportunities, they can truly change.”
Zheng, an active advocate for diverse communities and a leader in multi-racial coalition building for the past decade, has worked in violence prevention, neighborhood revitalization and economic and social empowerment. He believes in improving the health, safety and welfare of disenfranchised communities, particularly in the Southeast sector of San Francisco.
In 2007, Zheng began working for the Community Youth Center of San Francisco as a case manager and outreach worker, and then was appointed as the program director of the Bayview Branch Office in November 2012. He continued to focus on scaling violence prevention programs through the City and built up a community response network and youth empowerment network.
Zheng described that there was a string of violent incidents in the Chinese and Asian immigrant community in the early 2010’s in Bayview-Hunters Point. Outrage about the violence poured from the community throughout the district. To help the community who offered support while he was in prison, Zheng began looking for opportunities for cross-cultural engagement and healing. He realized that there were not many culturally competent and in-language resources for the Chinese monolingual community.
He started a branch office on 3rd Street in 2011 for Bayview Youth Advocates, a multicultural youth empowerment program. During the same year, Zheng collaborated with the Bayview YMCA and Chinatown Community Development Center to host a joint Black History Month and Lunar New Year celebration to bring together the African American and Asian communities as both take place in February. The joint celebrations have become an annual tradition that features a celebration lunch, cultural performances, toy giveaways, and food giveaways for families.
Zheng also helped launch the Bayview Youth Summit, where young people are empowered to create youth-led, youth-driven, and youth-implemented solutions to address issues in their community.
In 2013, District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen invited Zheng to serve as a Commission for the Southeast Community Facility (SECF). After discussions with SFPUC leadership and staff to further learn about the challenges and needs of the Southeast community, Zheng expressed interest to pursue a formal role. In September 2013, Mayor Ed Lee formally appointed Zheng to serve as a Commissioner.
The SECF is owned by the City and County of San Francisco, and operated and maintained by the SFPUC for the benefit of the Bayview-Hunters Point community. The SECF Commission provides guidance and advice to the Public Utilities Commission regarding operations of the Facility, and serves as an important public forum for community issues and concerns.
Throughout Zheng’s tenure serving as a Commissioner for the Southeast Community Facility, he looked for opportunities to enhance programming at the facility and engagement with the community. One of the changes he implemented was making community meetings more accessible. “When I realized that there weren’t that many people from the community participating in the bi-weekly meetings, I suggested we combine the meetings into one per month. It made a difference because it was a better use of the community and Commissioners’ time to have a focused time for issues and discussion,” shared Zheng.
“I became a Commissioner because representation is important to me, to utilize my knowledge and life experience to serve the community and advocate for them. I leverage my political and social consciousness to engage with people to address some of our differences, but also to celebrate our similarities,” said Zheng. “As part of the SECF Commission, I advocate for education and employment opportunities for this district. This work is aligned with the transformation that I was determined to achieve while in prison, and now in my community.”
Zheng said that being a Commissioner at the SECF has allowed him to have an official platform to listen to the needs of the community and advocate with them. This included launching programs, events and scholarships, but also solutions that serve the community in a practical way.
“One of the big milestones I got to contribute to was participating in the whole process of advocating for rebuilding the Southeast Community Facility – 1550 Evans,” Zheng shared. “The process took time, but it was worthwhile for me to engage with SFPUC leadership and community members. Eventually, we successfully advocated for the new building.”
The new SECF at 1550 Evans will include a large, state-of-the-art special events space and multi-purpose space for meetings, events, and recreation such as dance classes, gatherings and day care services. The new facility will also provide a wide range of social services supporting workforce development and education for Southeast residents of all ages.
While Zheng will be departing his role as a Commissioner, he will continue to actively engage with the Southeast community. Zheng will play a consulting role for Bayview Youth Advocates. He will continue to support the joint Black History and Lunar New Year celebration, especially for its upcoming 10th year anniversary. In September, Zheng will help coordinate the first Latinx and Moon Festival celebration in the Bayview. He reiterated that his work will continue to be focused on building bridges and healing across cultures in Bayview-Hunters Point.
For those who may be interested in community building and cross-cultural engagement, Zheng advises, “Focus on investing in your education. Education with critical thinking rooted in ethnic studies can be used to build understanding and healing across cultures. Hear and listen from others. If people don’t know their own culture or learn about others’ cultures, we will always be used as wedges to divide each other. Let’s not divide, but build. Don’t count out the community, invest in it.”