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Storied: San Francisco

Dec 12, 2023

In Part 2, Rudy picks up where he left off in Part 1, talking about the origin of United Playaz and a race riot at Balboa High School back in 1994.


Rudy gathered those students who'd been involved in the violence to talk and determine their own solutions. And that's exactly what they did. They told Rudy and other adults that there was nothing to do at the school, and out of that discovery, the school implemented many programs to better engage kids.


In 2005, Mauricio Vela gave Rudy the blessing to bring United Playaz to Rudy's home hood of South of Market. Rudy shares that story of first getting funding, then getting their building on Howard Street. They moved in around 2008/2009. And in 2015, UP bought the building.


We talk about the origin of UP's motto: “It takes the hood to save the hood …” That story starts in New Orleans post-Katrina, where Rudy saw what the people were doing for themselves to recover when officials at every level failed them. The phrase was inspired by what he saw there, including drug dealers, drug users, and "thugs" helping out in the community against unimaginable tragedy and stiff odds.


Today, UP has chapters all over the country, but their scope has evolved over time. Rudy shares a story of having talked with Stanley "Tookie" Williams, who was in San Quentin at the time. Tookie told Rudy to "work with the little kids," not just those at the high school level. Nowadays, as Rudy puts it, they work with every age group, “from the elementary to the penitentiary (their prison re-entry program).” Some in UP programs had been locked up for 30, 40, and 50 years. Some of them work with young kids today.

We end this podcast with talk of changes in the South of Market, the massive gentrification in that neighborhood that's occurred over the last several decades, and the relationships Rudy has built to counteract that.


We recorded this episode at the United Playaz Clubhouse in South of Market in November 2023.


Photography by Jeff Hunt