As Uzuri Pease-Greene mulled political office last year, three different people told her she couldn’t run because she lives in public housing.
Nevertheless, the formerly unhoused Bayview native — who also struggled with addiction — decided to run for supervisor of District 10, joining five other hopefuls jockeying to replace outgoing Supervisor Malia Cohen. Compared to Shamann Walton’s $182,000, the $162,000 raised by Theo Ellington, or Tony Kelly’s $91,000 war chest, Pease-Greene has just $4,000 to fund her campaign — but she’s OK with that.
She has neighbors to help pass out flyers and put up signs, plus the second-place endorsement of the San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters and nonprofit Evolve CA. She’s not in it for the money, but to show young people that it doesn’t matter where they live, they too can do something positive.
“Sometimes when they see someone like them doing good, it motivates them to do good,” Pease-Greene says. “It works hand in hand.”
After all, this kind of support is what’s kept Pease-Greene sober for almost 10 years. She struggled with addiction in her 20s, leaving her two kids with her mother in Chico while she battled the illness. In the midst of it all, she managed to get her name on a wait list for public housing.
For about two years she found herself without a home and got by on government assistance. Pease-Greene says she slept on the sidewalk, in cardboard boxes, in elevator shafts, doorways, and wherever else she could.
“You do a lot of hustling,” Pease-Greene says. But “I wasn’t robbing people, let’s be clear on that one.”
Pease-Greene had been on the waiting list for so long that she forgot she was on it, when, seven years later, she received the call that it was her turn. She chose a complex in Potrero Hill in order to stay away from people she knew, and worked on getting sober. Since 2001, she has had stable housing.
However, it was people on the street, she says, including some who would sell her drugs, who kept asking how many days sober she was and encouraged her to keep going. She went back to school, earning a degree in human service management from the University of Phoenix. She’s currently finishing her Master’s in public administration, while she works full-time as a community builder for BRIDGE Housing.
“When I see Uzuri, I think of strength, resilience, and love,” says Rolanda Mitchell Greene, Pease-Greene’s stepdaughter. “When she overcame her addiction and got involved in the community, you could really see what she had to offer.”
Pease-Greene now serves on the African American Community Advisory Committee, where she talks through policing issues with San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, and organizes regular barbeques and Thanksgiving dinners with officers to build relationships with the neighborhood. She also helped start nonprofit C.A.R.E., or Community Awareness Resources Entity, with her husband Donald Greene to repair neighborhood tensions brought on by gentrification.
In 2013, she was recognized for leading a walking school bus that went to the doors of kids living in Potrero Hill public housing and led them to nearby elementary schools on foot.
Kim Christensen, a Potrero Hill neighbor, attests to the bridging of divisions Pease-Greene has brought. Now her volunteer campaign manager, Christensen was impressed by her authenticity and willingness to step up and do grassroots work.
“When discussing policy, Uzuri makes it real. She can talk about how it impacts people on the ground,” Christensen says, citing an example of the proposed cutting of a bus stop. “She has a real natural talent for making connections with people.”
Affordable housing and homelessness remain Pease-Greene’s priorities, as are women’s health care rights and domestic violence. She is determined to have committees of constituents to keep her in line with their needs and wishes — which can mean not taking a position until she’s thoroughly vetted the policy, even if it means giving vague answers.
“I think it’s OK for me to say ‘I don’t know.’ I think that’s a refreshing thing,” she says. “You can’t be an expert on everything.”
Proposition C, which adds a local gross receipts tax on the largest businesses to bring in an extra $300 million annually for homelessness services, and Proposition 10, which repeals Costa-Hawkins to remove state restrictions on local rent control, are two examples. While she’s personally for Prop. C, she’s not 100 percent certain on the fine print for both and doesn’t have an expected time to announce a position.
What she’s sure of is that her time in community leadership is far from done. Though she didn’t see the decision to run for supervisor happening years ago, she’s happy to see where it leads with or without a seat at the Board of Supervisors.
“It’s a journey that I’m still learning about,” Pease-Greene says. “I’m still going where my feet are being taken.”
Ida Mojadad is a staff writer at SF Weekly.
Imojadad@sfweekly.com | @idamoj