I left my Capitol view law firm, HMS Law Group, LLP last week, launched the Law Offices of Don F. Harris and am preparing to return to the Victorian my consulting company once occupied in the “40 Acres” complex in Sacramento’s Oak Park community. I have a lot of history there. The late Joe Serna, Jr. represented this area as a Sacramento City Councilman, and for a short season, I served as his Administrative Assistant. Then, 35th & Broadway was the seedy Woodruff Hotel. I remember the citizen complaints about hypodermic needles and syringes littering the ground. After law school at UC Davis, I returned to Oak Park as a freshly minted Associate Attorney with the former McDonough, Holland & Allen law firm, this time representing US Bank in its efforts to establish a bank branch in the community. Early notions of what became Nehemiah Corporation of America actually started here as my old friend Jim Quaschnick, Jr., then facilities manager for US Bank and I contemplated strategies to address the boarded and vacant houses that pock-marked the community at that time. In fact, we, in collaboration with Antioch Progressive Baptist Church, formed Nehemiah Progressive Housing Development Corporation 20 years ago this month to, among other things, undertake what we then called the “Park Project” to address abandoned houses in Oak Park. We even hired a young “radical” named David Deluz to help us research the project. Later still, when my tenacious and visionary friend, Mayor Kevin Johnson, decided to return to Sacramento to give back to his community, Nehemiah’s meteoric rise resulting from the national expansion of the Nehemiah downpayment assistance program enabled it, through its newly created Nehemiah Community Reinvestment Fund, to commit the initial external capital for the development of what is now known as “40 Acres” anchored by the a true community cafe, “Old Soul.”
This is my 49th year. I am settling in to what I hope to be a “wise counselor/seasoned explorer” phase of life. Sort of an Indiana Jones, professor (or in my case, lawyer) by day, adventurer by night kind-of thing. My latest “adventure” is to lead a homeless ministry in the heart of Sacramento’s skid row. Why? Maybe it’s because I know that places like that and the people who are in them have the capacity to be better and to do better. Syringes can become flowers. Abandoned houses can become homes. Empty fields in forgotten places can become vibrant community centers and even brand new communities. There is despair, yet there is hope. Collectively, I have watched communities rally to aggregate resources and know-how to solve basic human problems. Sometimes it just takes a catalyst and someone who is not afraid to get to “close to the fire.” These are the kinds of people and organizations that I tend to represent as an attorney. And to think, I get to do this for a living.
-P.S. Let me know if you have any furniture that would work in a quaint Victorian office.