Mary L. Booker, longtime Bayview Opera House associate and civil rights activist, died at the Coming Home Hospice in San Francisco on May 11 of leukemia. She was 85 years old.
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1931, Booker moved to San Francisco in 1955. Five years later, she started Infinity Productions at Bayview Opera House, where she offered free acting workshops, in addition to writing and performing. direct several productions.
A strong advocate for social justice, Booker has used the performing arts to promote African American culture and bring community members from different generations together. Members of Providence Baptist Church called her “Mother Booker,” a name that followed her to the Bayview Opera House. She was known for her nourishing nature.
After his funeral in Providence on May 16, hundreds of celebrants attended Booker’s return to the Bayview Opera House, hosted by board member Theodore Ellington.
Ellington praised Booker’s “intensity, persistence and passion for the performing arts”, encouraging attendees “to preserve his legacy and ensure there is a permanent element. here at the Bayview Opera “.
Although she is known as a nurturer, many have spoken of her down-to-earth style of directing the actors who have starred in her productions.
“She was the closest thing I had to a basketball coach,” actor Walter Johnson said. “She took the drama like a fish in water. You better get to know your lines when dealing with Mother Booker and bring your A set. “
“She was the voice of the community, the voice of essence and reason,” said Michelle Batte, who was 12 when she first met Booker.
“She made sure that if you put your name on something, it was done decently and in order, and always on time,” Batte said. “She believed you never do anything by halves!”
Kevin Williams, son of Bayview community activist Ruth Williams, said Booker had encouraged him to stay off the streets and remembered shooting dice and stealing cars before welcoming him as a student in drama and encourage her to return to school.
Williams then graduated from San Francisco State University. “She believed in young people and encouraged us to stay off the streets by doing something creative and productive,” he said.
Playwright and director Bertron Bruno has worked with Booker at Bayview Opera House since 1994. Engaging the youth of the community is “an uphill battle,” he said, but Booker took his mission seriously by using the theater to give children a sense of discipline and accomplishment.
Playing in a Booker production wasn’t just a test of acting talent, Bruno said. “It was more about how to show you’re good at something could influence the Bayview community. “
Booker’s initiative to create better Bayview artwork has been recognized throughout San Francisco. In 2007, she also received the Unsung Hero Award from the San Francisco Public Library.
“Ms. Booker carried the torch for the arts at Bayview Hunters Point and was an important part of the performing arts movement in San Francisco,” said supervisor Malia Cohen, who also acknowledged Booker’s passing in the previous one. meeting of the supervisory board.
Verna Howard, president of Infinity Productions, said Booker was “the stabilizer of his life” and plans to keep Infinity Productions alive in honor of Booker.
“His many words of encouragement and especially his prayers of intercession made me become the person I am today,” Howard said. “She helped me soar.”