Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mother Mary Ann Wright

Our beloved Mother Mary Ann Wright, passed last week (she was 87) after dedicating her life to service. She fed the hungry, clothed the naked and often sheltered those who were without shelter. Her life touched so many others here in Oakland that she lay in state for an entire day and multiple services were held in her honor throughout the City. Her reach was local and international. Rep. Barbara Lee called her "our Mother Teresa."

As announcements were made about Mother Wright's Homegoing celebration Wednesday-Thursday, May 27-28, I wondered what the cost of all the pomp and glitter if liquidated would have added to the reach of Mother Wright’s mission and work here and elsewhere? Oakland still has a huge homeless population and with the city in its current state of monetary crises…City employees forced to take unpaid leave twice a month. I always wonder where the money comes from to put on these events. But then, an accountant told me that governments are never broke. The politicians just tell us this.

And we couldn’t let such a giant among human beings pass without a murmur, now could we? Of course not. The ceremonial farewell reminded me of what it would have been like to attend the services for Coretta Scott King. Mother Wright was the Bay Area’s First Lady of Grace.

I remember when I read her booklet, quite a while ago. It spoke of her early life in rural Louisiana, orphaned at two upon her mother’s death, teen marriage to a brutal older man and first husband, her escape to California and liberation, the trials of raising such a large family (12 children) combined with her duties as a wife to a loving second husband, her strong faith and belief in God, and her calling to feed the hungry –a dream which shook her from sleep in 1990.

Soft spoken when not in the pulpit or behind her bullhorn holding church at her multiple food giveaway sites, frail-looking physically in her later years, yet always sharp, focused on her mission--to eradicate hunger, always internally strong, I marvelled over this woman who’d done so much to comfort the poor, a woman loved by all who knew her.

Mother Wright spoke at my friend Joy Holland’s funeral two years ago. It was here that she mentioned her upcoming birthday party at Sweet's Ballroom in downtown Oakland. I wish I'd gone.

At Joy's funeral, she said to “give her her flowers while she could still smell them. They were of no use when she was gone.” I know Mother Wright received many flowers while she was alive from her loving children and other children (all of us) whose lives she touched. She received many proclamations and awards, one was given to her by the late, Diane Howell, Ph.D. at the Black Expo honoring “101+ Women Making a Difference.” There were/still are so many good women in the San Francisco Bay Area like Mother Wright quietly changing the world one life at a time. I was on that list too, and got a chance to take a picture with this great woman.

I first met Mother Wright when I was working at Acorn 2 Apartments in West Oakland and she gave away Thanksgiving groceries to residents. I later visited her organization and she gave me a tour. She could always be counted on to show up at Old Man’s Park on Jefferson--rain or shine, giving away hot food, clothing, good and hope. (I learned last week, OMP or "Lafayette Park," its official name, was the site of the first Chabot Planetarium).

She was the epitome of a forgiving and selflessness. Her life was one of service, but she also knew how to have a life too. She celebrated her birthday, she loved her family and she showed up when she needed to show up for others, like as I said two years ago, to honor my late friend, poet, artist, activist, Joy Holland.

Mother Wright is survived by 10 children, 33 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by two sons. Visit and


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