PLACE Story Share
Story Share with Williams Appliances

Thursday, Feb 27, 2020

PLACE for Sustainable Living
1121 64th Street
Oakland CA

"People know we’re here. People see us, the same faces every day."

Neighbors gathered at PLACE for Sustainable Living for an evening of stories shared by Fred & Ruthanne Williams, owners of neighborhood landmark Williams Appliances. Fred and PLACE leaders know each other well---they’re practically next door neighbors.  Still, this gathering was the first time that Fred and Ruthanne had been inside of the PLACE grounds. Nearly everyone in the room knew Fred by his familiar greetings or because they had purchased appliances from him over the years.

PLACE has been a community hub for eco-living and maker practices for nearly a decade. Supporting community resilience, they’re "committed to a decolonized vision of community and connection to one another".  The Barn, their main event space, offered the ideal homey atmosphere for everyone to listen deeply. Thanks to PLACE Steward Maya for the lovely photos!

"Umuntu, ngumuntu, ngabantu"

"My grandmother used to tell me the same story over and over. As a child I was frustrated and didn’t understand why," explained Ruthanne Williams. "I’d tell her, Grandma, you already told me that story many times. She’d say 'Baby, did I?' 'Yes, ma'm, you did.' But after she passed, I understood why she did this. So I could remember and carry her stories, and tell them to my children and grandchildren."

Ruthanne’s reflections on her Grandma’s stories point to the importance and necessity of story sharing. When we hold our family, neighbor, and community stories with care, we deepen our relationships to each other and to our histories.

The above Nguni proverb means "I am because we are and we are because I am." Oakland-based Fania Davis, a civil rights lawyer, warrior and healer, uses this proverb to explain the relational Restorative Justice (RJ) framework. Deep, intentional listening is a key RJ tenet.  Commons Archive is committed to  nurturing community opportunities to listen to each others’ stories.

Learn more about Commons Archive's new effort to generate block-by-block phone trees.

"To think that Fred's children and grandchildren will read his stories...this book is a healing."

Fred and Ruthanne Williams, as longtime black business owners, sustain community relationships. For over five decades, they've supported neighbors with high quality, refurbished fridges, stoves and washers/dryers. They’re invested in building long-term relationships with their customers, unlike some of the nearby big box retailers. Fred always stands by his work---his uncle, who started the business, instilled in him this ethos.

Fred first met Ruthanne when he delivered and installed a fridge to her family's home. On one of their first dates, as the pair drove around Oakland, Fred's practice of waving to everyone worried Ruthanne. Born and raised in Oakland, she thought it might get him into trouble. Fred, though, said it's just what you do, what he learned to do growing up in the south. He says hello to everyone who passes by his shop.

In 2015, Fred  generously shared stories about his childhood in rural Alabama, his journey to Oakland and his relationship to the community through his uncle's business.  The full interview transcript is in 'Golden Gate Conversations', one of eight titles in the Golden Gate Library Local Collection. Listen to  part of Fred’s story here.