Brigitte Davila, president of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees, is flanked by supporters as she addresses plans to rename Phelan Avenue to Frida Kahlo Way on April 4. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The road to social justice: Frida Kahlo Way

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee will consider a resolution brought forward by Supervisor Norman Yee to rename Phelan Avenue in front of City College of San Francisco to “Frida Kahlo Way.” The Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and students of CCSF speak with one voice in strong and unanimous support of this resolution.

The City and the Sunset/Ingleside neighborhood surrounding City College’s main campus at the Balboa Park BART station are teeming, energetic and diverse. We are a community deeply respectful of all cultures. One of the wonderful aspects of a diverse, inclusive college and local community is that we also take great joy in learning from each other.

When Yee pointed out that former Mayor James Phelan was a proponent of the Chinese Exclusion Act, among other similar unenlightened acts that do not reflect our current community’s values, our faculty, staff and students swung into action to organize the community to engage in an act of history and to propose an new and fitting street name for the road that runs right by the front door of City College.

Following an extended consultation process conducted by Yee, the proposed new name is fitting and appropriate for three important reasons:

First, it lifts the street name out of the realm of politics and into the inspiring world of art. Kahlo was one of the 20th century’s most significant woman artists, and her art continues to resonate in our imaginations.

Second, Kahlo was married to Diego Rivera, who created the masterpiece mural, “Pan American Unity,” which is now housed at City College. Rivera and Kahlo participated in the Golden Gate Exposition of 1940 and lived in San Francisco while Rivera was painting the mural. Kahlo herself is depicted in this mural, and City College will soon loan it to SFMOMA for a major Rivera exhibition in 2020. Our plan is to build our new Performing Arts and Education Center and to return the mural to its new home in the PAEC that will be located on what will now properly be named Frida Kahlo Way.

Finally, the renaming of the street is an important historical act that advances the important project of recovering women’s history and the contribution of women to San Francisco’s history of progress toward social justice. Our own Leslie Simon, professor of Women’s Studies, was recently honored by the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women for her lifetime commitment to social justice by working to create a conducive and safe environment for all women in all institutions. Simon and many others have taught us that the concept of Pan American Unity in the Rivera mural and Kahlo’s own impressive body of work are part of our cultural DNA.

So let June 11 be the day we take another important step on the path to a just society based on the principle of inclusion. This action will be in accord with a city and a community that celebrates creativity and compassion.

Brigitte Davila is president of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees. Mark Rocha is the chancellor of City College of San Francisco.

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