‘Making Room for New Ideas:’ A Q&A with OMI Cultural Participation Project’s Maurice Rivers

Maurice Rivers with community members. Courtesy of Maurice Rivers

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Most people know the Ocean View-Merced Heights-Ingleside Cultural Participation Project from its events on Faxon Avenue. But there is a whole lot more in store for the neighborhood under the leadership of Maurice Rivers. Cultural events and community cleanups are only the beginning. The Ingleside Light interviewed Rivers about his plans for his community-based organization.

This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.

What’s your background?

I’m from the OMI. Family’s been here since the 1960s. My grandmother owned a boarding care home across from Beep’s Burgers and my grandfather was one of the first five black Deputy Sheriffs in San Francisco.

I went to Commodore Sloat then Aptos then Visitacion Valley and then came back to School of the Arts and then went to college at Notre Dame in 2001. I went on to work all kinds of jobs around the city. I would say the core of my work was as an office manager, an executive assistant for three different tech and journalism companies.

How did you get involved with OMICPP?

Back in 2016 or 2017, I joined the CPP board. We supported longtime Executive Director Maria Fe Picar mostly with stuff at Caffe D’Melanio, the OMI Festival (which I’m trying to revive), the car show and Halloween. So those were the main things. 

Maria retired and sold her house, and then I became the executive director. She always told me that she was grooming me to take over.

When I took over, I realized that the marketing and outreach wasn’t there. I started incorporating more stuff and looking at what the OMI actually needed, especially during the pandemic. So my goal was always to take the foundation she gave me and really go into the stratosphere.

What did you do once you took over?

We still did the Halloween block party, the car show but I didn’t really do any fundraisers. I did start collaborating with the Ocean Avenue Association at the time to do cleanups. Then I branched off and then started doing a District 11-wide community cleanup, which meets every last Saturday.

How did you and OMICPP pivot when the pandemic struck?

I started volunteering at the COVID-19 site at 50 Broad St., and then I took over after a while. From August of 2020 to the present, I’ve been working at the COVID-19 vaccine site in collaboration with most of our other hub members in OMI Community Collaborative. For CPP, anyway, 2020 was a lost year. We really didn’t do very much because the pandemic had started, and nobody really knew what we could do. I pretty much just shut everything down. We didn’t do any events last year, besides our little Halloween pop up on Broad and Plymouth. And we only moved it there because we didn’t know if we could do actual outside events like we usually do on Faxon, but we’ll be back on Faxon this year!

Any highlights, lessons or insight from the pandemic?

I would say that there’s actually more people in the OMI who want to get involved than you think. And a lot of those people don’t get involved because they feel like certain people are entitled and the gatekeepers, which is very true. I had someone tell me this recently at a committee meeting at Blue House cafe. They wanted to get more involved, but they felt there was pushback because they had not been involved before. Or they felt that their ideas were not really accepted so they just backed away. And to me, that’s problematic because that means that some people are pushing people away in the OMI who want to be involved and not making room for new ideas and new leadership.

How is fundraising?

Fundraising is always an ongoing goal. We have a PayPal so that people can donate electronically. I’m interested in long term donors and foundations who can give large amounts. Fundraisers are fun, but it doesn’t really help in the long run as far as getting badly needed funding.

What does the rest of 2021 hold for CPP?

Late 2021 is looking very promising. I’m working on a block party at Merced Heights Playground with Youth First in August. I’ve already got the go ahead from the Church of Eight Wheels to do an OMI skate party. Right now it’s just a matter of finding a flat surface and a street that we can block off that doesn’t have a bus on it. The Halloween block party in October. And then, of course, we will resume our Unity Plaza marketplace in September. In December, we are collaborating with Rec and Park to do the OMI Kwanzaa celebration. We may also be doing a winter formal at the auditorium at Minnie and Lovie Ward Recreation Center.

What most excites you for the future of OMICPP?

What most excites me is having some community events every month or community programming every month, and becoming more of a resource center using our new office at 209 Ocean Ave.

Tell me more about turning the office into a resource center?

So one thing that we have learned from a COVID-19 is that it exacerbated and brought to the surface a lot of the ongoing issues not just in District 11 but around the city, which is homelessness, housing insecurity and disaster preparedness. I want my office to be, twice-a-week for now starting in August, a place where people can come and get a hot meal. They can come get PPE or a resource bag, toiletries, clothing, shoes, you name it. I’m working on partnering with Target in Stonestown so that they can be a major donation source for the OMICC. So, and of course, my organization so that anyone from District 11 and 7 can drop in on those days and get things that they might need.

For more information about the OMICPP, visit www.omi-cpp.org.