Black Arts Center Kicks S.F. Chronicle out of Meeting

Obama on San Francisco Chronicle cover (torbakhopper / Flickr / CC)
torbakhopper / Flickr / CC

America’s campuses aren’t the only no-go zones for the First Amendment–as the San Francisco Chronicle found out.

On Wednesday night in San Francisco, the non-profit African American Arts and Culture Complex barred the media from observing a meeting to deal with an internal struggle for control, even though the building where the meeting took place is owned by the city, and taxpayers funded more than three-quarters of last year’s $1 million budget.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that one of its reporters was thrown out before the meeting started. The Rev. Arnold Townsend, a member of the center’s board, instructed the reporter to leave, explaining later, “We wanted to meet with the community and didn’t want (their comments) spread around.

The Rev. Amos Brown, president of the city’s NAACP chapter and a former San Francisco supervisor, reportedly echoed his sentiments: “I was told this was a family meeting.”

The board of the center scheduled a meeting because of an internecine battle for control of the center. The center’s executive director, Mohammed Soriano-Bilal, has come under withering fire from Sherri Young, founder and director of the African Shakespeare Company, who has charged Soriano-Bilal with mismanaging up the center’s funding, telling the Chronicle, “He’s missed payroll twice, and that’s never happened before. There’s been excessive spending, and he’s started hiring a lot more people.”

Soriano-Bilal responded that the difficulties were catalyzed by the city’s ineptitude in reimbursing the center, arguing, “The (city) money wasn’t sent to us in a timely manner. But we’ve now paid most of the bills.”

The fissure between the two factions was exacerbated by charges that Soriano-Bilal was scheduling exhibitions by artists who weren’t black; Soriano-Bilal felt the artists still had a connection to black history and culture. But Brown snapped, “You don’t tell the Jewish people” they have to include other cultures, “You don’t tell the Latinos. You don’t tell the Chinese.”

Another meeting has ben scheduled after Thanksgiving. Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who served as the executive director of the African American Art & Culture Complex from 2002-13, has warned that the city might become involved.