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Coltrane Church Told By San Francisco Sheriff It Has a Week To Relocate

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Art from the Saint John Coltrane Church (Courtesy: Saint John Coltrane Church)

A representative from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department Wednesday informed the Saint John Coltrane Church that it must move in a week, according to a church pastor.

Reverend Wanika K. Stephens said that a notice was left on the door of the church stating that all of the church’s belongings must be removed from its storefront space on Fillmore Street by 6:01am on March 2, or they become the possessions of the building’s landlords.

The notice did not shock church members, as they had been expecting it since the beginning of the month. Still, Stephens said that the church had hoped for a reprieve, and church leaders have scheduled a meeting with San Francisco officials on Tuesday, hoping the city will pressure the landlord, The West Bay Community Center, to give the church more time to relocate.

Reverend Wanika Stephens
Reverend Wanika Stephens (Courtesy: Saint John Coltrane Church)

“We’re not asking for anything that we don’t deserve but a little fairness in this situation,” Stephens said.

The move means that the Fillmore Jazz Preservation District would lose one of two remaining venues promoting jazz in the neighborhood, as well as one of the last black-run organizations in an area once known as the “Harlem of the West.”

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The notice comes the day after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors honored the Coltrane Church as part of Black History Month.

The church, established in 1971, received a commendation by city leaders as part of Black History Month for spreading the music of jazz legend John Coltrane and “uplifting people every day,” according to Supervisor Eric Mar, who nominated the church and its founders, Archbishop Franzo King and Supreme Mother Rev. Marina King, for the special honor.

“[The Kings are] building a legacy for African American communities by not only preserving and promoting Coltrane’s music and message, but also really supporting residents facing suffering and misery by uplifting them,” Mar said. Mar began his statements by saying that the music of Coltrane changed his life.

At the supervisors meeting, Archbishop King, a San Francisco resident since 1948, described those working to push out the church as “enemies of the people.”

“Our fight then is not for a storefront on Fillmore Street. The focus of our efforts are to snatch back from the jaws of the defilers of human dignity the rights of black and brown communities to live and prosper in this city that they have given their labor and their culture,” King said.

King says that the West Bay Community Center wants to move the church out of their current space because they want to move in tenants that can afford $4,000 a month rent. A potential renter appears to be the black-owned Sun Reporter, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lawyers representing the West Bay Community Center say the church hasn’t paid its rent in a year, which Stephens confirms. (Read the attorney’s statement here.)

But Stephens and church members insist that was because the center had refused their checks.

“This is not about rent. We have had our rent money,” King said at the Supervisors meeting. “This is about someone having a plan to move us as the last voice of revolutionary commitment in the Fillmore District.”

Archbishop Franzo King
Archbishop Franzo King (Courtesy: Saint John Coltrane Church)

Though the church continues to ask city officials for help, they have said previously that they were unable to intervene. Still, at the meeting Tuesday, Mar called on residents to support the church.

“The John Coltrane Church has been a key force in the Fillmore District. They’re facing some serious times right now, so I’m hoping that people support them in their struggle to stay in the Fillmore.”

It looks like Sunday could be the church’s last service at its current location. But Stephens says she hopes that the church will be able to host a service somewhere on Easter Sunday.

“It’s something that the people want. Every day they keep coming, they show up at the door. And we need to be here to open that door so people can come in and receive what they need.”

The church has set up an online petition for those who want to support their cause. You can see it here.

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