The Keys of Access for Every Family
Giving Witness by Michael Martin
My testimony arose during a meeting of the Reparations Committee about the
Black Wealth Builders Project we are engaged in. In the course of discussion, I
spontaneously volunteered this fact: the ability of my young parents, in 1958, to
move from our small bungalow in West Berkeley to a newly-built home in the
then wide-open spaces of El Cerrito was the single event that had the most
profound effect on my life. The meeting participants suggested that I testify to
that effect to you, my beloved fellow Epworthians.
My folks were young. My dad was not yet 30 when they bought the lot (many of
the pioneers found it easier to buy lots and build than to buy houses) on which
our house was built. They weren’t educated. What my folks did know was that
access to better things – better housing, better education – existed in these all-
white places to the north, and that's what they wanted, and got, for their children.
In so many cases, as it was in ours, real estate is key to that access.
I went to Del Mar Elementary School in El Cerrito. When I started kindergarten I
was, along with my older brother, one of four Black students. I don’t remember
being tested, but I had to have been, because by first grade I was among a group
of about ten students who were fast-tracked through an advanced education
program. Remember the space race? We couldn’t let the Godless communists
educate their children better than ours. That gave us the new math. Remember
SMSG? Because of where I lived, I benefited from all this. I wasn’t the only one in
my high school class to go to Yale. Darryl Nash, who, with her schoolteacher
parents, lived barely three blocks away in El Cerrito ended up living just across
the quad from me in New Haven. Getting into the house you want and need is
key for every family. It was for mine.