Poverty Hero: My friend Jazzie Collins

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 14 July 2013

Yesterday morning a good friend had passed. I did not know it until I found out later in the morning. She won awards and she was on more committees and boards than you could shake a stick at. She died as she had came into this world--poor. Her name was Jazzie Collins. She was born poor but her wealth was in her knowledge and love. A fan of the Giants and 49ers, she loved this City when she came in here in the 80's. Was born with two strikes against her in the City of Memphis. She was Black and Trans-Gender in a City that hated both parts of her nature. Raised in a strict Baptist family, that was not the religion she finally chose. Her term for ministers was not polite. She called them “Jack-legged preachers with their good fried-chicken eating ass”. She had seven other brothers and sisters. Was put in foster care where they abused her and milked the system at the same time. These were people of color like herself.  She was born a boy, confused and living in the wrong body. She was called James then,living in a body of a boy with feelings of a woman. She ran away and was kicked out of school for refusing to be spanked by the Principal. She ran away to her birth mother. Graduated Job Corps as a construction worker. Came to San Francisco on a bus like thousands of other dreamers. Worked a stint in the hospitals in between construction jobs as an orderly. This was in the 70's and 80's. This city will either embrace you or kick your ass out or like a lover. Spent some time in jail for addiction of unorthodox medicine. Was counseled by Police and Parole Officers, they said, "You are not a bad kid." 


A few years later I got to know her in person. I met her as Staff coordinator for Renee Saucido's campaign for 'supervisor. A couple of years passed-I really got to know her better at the Prop L Committee. to raise the minimum wage of San Francisco. At this time I was homeless. The only food I got working as an unpaid activist was cookies and donuts at meetings that lasted two and three hours for one point. We got to know each other better. Back then she was more argumentative and quick tempered. Also met another good friend, Former Supervisor Cristina Olague. We got to know each other as brothers and sisters. There was no class or structure in that we were working for the same goal.


Time passed--got to work with her again at Mission Agenda. She was running the food pantry at 6th Street, called 6th Street Agenda. Working with her we would walk home together and bullshit. I lived at the Isabel Hotel, she lived at 8th and Howard in an apartment building until she died. One day while working at Mission Agenda she wore a wig, dress and makeup. The wig looked like the shaved hair of a yak on her head and she said in a deep voice, “Call me Jazzie...FROM NOW ON!" I noticed a relief in her eyes and a gleam in her face. I noticed her world had changed in her mind. She got softer and more feminine as her new life began. James had died that night and a new personality had arose.  A better friend had came out of it--Jazzie. We still were friends. It took me five days to adjust to the new friend. If this had helped her, who am I to judge. Some more time had passed, The Mission Agenda had died, the founder had left and got a better job  The Mission SRO Collaborative reformed after a major partner, Mission Housing had dropped out. The new major partner, Tenderloin Housing Clinic had formed. Now you got Christina Olague as Director, Jazzie as Tenant Organizer, Bruce Allison as Part Time Volunteer. This is where I met another good friend, Tony Robles, Jen Yu, a single mother with a kid named Andromeda who now lives in Hawaii. All of us working in an office that was formerly a bar and three other people that would come in three days a month to collect the rent for THC's property in the Mission District. We did this for a few more years. Jazzie was like to me a nagging sister and a good friend. We left when the Mission Agenda was taken over by another group. I went back to Planning for Elders in City as one of their volunteers. Jazzie went on to be an organizer for the South of Market Community Action Network, better known as SOMCAN.


We had an election in the SOMA District. Chris Daly was an up and coming star and Jazzie was a member of the South of Market Stabilization Fund. This Fund I will get to in later articles, but this story is about a friend. I joined Poor Magazine as a Staff Writer where I found my role in their revolution. We hung out a lot, Jazzie and I, in our houses, in bars and in rallies. She recently chewed me out about my latest escapade--getting arrested and being thrown in jail for civil disobedience. One day I met another good friend who was heading for college in Seattle to get her doctorate. I was going to go to Seattle too. Jazzie along with 20 other people convinced me otherwise. I thought it over and changed my mind. We stayed  good friends through many campaigns. One campaign I can remember was trying to get healthcare for every San Franciscan, today it is known as Healthy San Francisco requiring all employers give health care to their employees. The worst of our nemesis was the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and the Chamber of Commerce. Picture this in your mind, this author (Who looks like the Geico caveman), a transgender Jazzie Collins, James Chionsini, a blind Latino Woman, and James Keys were sent to the toughest of the tough that no one else wanted. We heard, "Mack, is the table in the back by the closet ready? Keep the closet open " .We asked the manager to sign this piece of paper, he signed it and got us out the door as soon as possible. As I was in the grunt position, and Jazzie was in the command centers of Occupy San Francisco, we took over a building called 888 Turk Street, a former mental health facility. Jazzie comes in  and goes upstairs, looks the second floor over and the first floor and said, "Bruce we can house a lot of people here, come with me. I said no, I am staying with my story." I got my ass chewed out the next three weeks every day by Jazzie.


Her best honor was yet to come. Being a member of the Lesbian Gay Transgender Senior Disabled Housing Task Force, she immediately became a Vice Chairperson, and she was proud of it.  I was proud of her too. About 6 months later, we go up to Sacramento, We bump into Tom Ammiano. Jazzie and I said hi. I told Tom I got married. Tom said, "See there's hope for you yet." A couple weeks later Jazzie received the honor of being among the 10 LGBT persons of the year in the state of California. A ceremony was held in the state assembly for the honorees.


Two weeks ago I heard she was in the hospital. I went to Kaiser Permanente and talked to her. She was putting on a good front. I knew something was more wrong that she let on. Friday I got a call that she was in ICU As soon as I got there here eyes wee half open and glazed. I talk to her for a while, I said, "Next time you see me I will be wearing a red suit and a pitch fork. You wont be seeing my ugly mug again." I went home. The next day I went back on a Monday. They changed her clothes as I was sitting in the waiting room. Got called back in along with Tom Ammiano's Aide, Kimberly Alvarenga. I came in and said, Jazzie when you get out of here we are getting a beer. As I looked in her face for the second time this week, she looked at me with eyes glazed over, machines making here breathe. I walked out of the room crying like a baby under my breath. The next day I go to a meeting my friend said Jazzie passed.


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