Updated: Jun 12, 2019
In Eastlake United for Justice, we believe in getting to know the wisdom and greatness of our neighbors. Our first #MeetANeighbor profile introduces Sulaiman Hyatt: housing organizer, father, cyclist, and person of faith.
You recently helped block the eviction of a disabled Black grandmother and her 5 grandchildren in SF.
What advice would you give to someone trying to stop an eviction?
Ground and center yourself in why you're committing to the action. Oddly enough, though I contemplate housing as a human right daily, it took me a week to come to the conclusion to commit to this direct action. I had to go through my own anger and hatred before centering myself. And you have to be centered to confront the weight of the system.
I appreciate this statement by Dr. Taiaiake Alfred, Kanien'kehaka (Mohawk) philosopher, writer and teacher.
"[Political] transformation will begin inside each one of us as personal change, but decolonization will become a reality only when we collectively both commit to a movement based on an ethical and political vision and consciously reject the colonial postures of weak submission, victimry, and raging violence. It is a political vision and solution that will be capable of altering power relations and rearranging the forces that shape our lives."
Also keep in mind that you are fighting a fight that has a low rate of success. Most of the time the eviction will happen because even if you are successful at avoiding the sheriffs today they will simply come back next week. It is a war of attrition, and we are out-resourced. SF is rapidly becoming a city that is hostile to our seniors. My dad actually lived there many years and wished he could retire there, but it's completely unaffordable. The most important part of this fight is not letting it get to the eviction, and that means being proactive in community developing strategies of keeping people housed.
You're raising a child in Eastlake — your son is 2 1/2 years old. What kind of neighborhood do you want him to grow up in?
There's a beautiful sentiment from Dakota writer, teacher, and activist Waziyatawin, who says when she eventually crosses over, she wants her ancestors to be able to recognize her by her actions, and be able to distinguish her from the people who have oppressed them.The more we undo the poisons within, dismantle the oppressions throughout, and practice a renewed imagination, she says, the more we will become recognizable to our ancestors when we return to them.
In Eastlake I want our older community to be able to recognize our younger community by our actions. And by our wild, amazing imagination, and boundless dreaming. My son is only 2, but he's participated with other children in Abundant Beginnings, serving houseless communities being evicted at the Lake. If my little one can join the fight in this way, I as an adult can, too.
Our community is where we have our culture. I would want my little one to grow up connected to community, and to that culture. Oakland has an amazing culture which is under threat of genocide. This culture cannot be found anywhere else, it is only here. I want to make sure that this culture is preserved and nourished so that my kid and other kids can access it, grow from it, and contribute to it.
As someone who follows Islam, would you say your faith contributes to your work and passion for justice?
Yes, very much so. Spirituality helps you envision beyond the trauma and pain that might be affecting you. At the same time, I'm also in a place of deep inquiry about the ways that colonialism has affected the Islamic traditions that I've been taught. So it's complex, but yes, spirituality is definitely a key part of it for me.
Fighting without spirituality is an empty fight, and one becomes susceptible to becoming that which one fights and struggles against. Keep yourself immersed in the healing practices of spirituality, ritual, and ceremony.