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Menlo Park Residents Fear Loss of Onetta Harris’ Legacy in Facebook Offer to Overhaul Community Center



Front of the Onetta Harris Center in Menlo Park. Photo by Ken Harris

By Tanya Dennis

The legacy of a renowned Belle Haven organizer and advocate is under threat as the City of Menlo Park prepares to review suggestions for names of a new community center to replace the one named for Onetta Harris in 1983.

A beloved community worker in the Belle Haven district of Menlo Park, Harris passed away in 1982.

A member of the Belle Haven Advisory Board, Harris had also chaired the Neighborhood Housing Service, a housing rehabilitation agency, co-founded and served on the Charles Drew Medical Center with her husband, Israel Harris, and was an assistant to the principal at Belle Haven Elementary School.

She helped with voter registration and distributed food baskets during the holidays. On a personal level, Harris saved the lives of numerous Belle Haven youth with wise council and support, taking many into her home to live with her.

After receiving a petition from local residents, the Menlo Park City Council voted unanimously to name their community center the Onetta Harris Community Center in 1983.

Onetta Harris. Courtesy of Ken Harris.

Onetta Harris. Courtesy of Ken Harris.

In 2019, Facebook entered into a joint agreement with the City of Menlo Park to redevelop the property that housed the Onetta Harris Community Center, promising to fully fund a new “state-of-the-art” community center with a library, senior center, youth center, gym, and multipurpose room.

At the time, Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller lauded the tech company’s proposal.

“Facebook’s proposal, to wholly fund the building of a new state of the art community center and library in Belle Haven, represents a significant and impactful investment in the quality of life of Menlo Park residents, and significantly District 1 residents,” he said. “It would be insincere for me to pretend it isn’t the type of project that fosters appreciable trust from the community in Facebook’s long-term commitment to its neighbors and the City of Menlo Park.”

At the 2020 Council meeting attendees said, “The project is great, just don’t change the name.” Facebook replied that they “had no interest in changing the name.”

But the initial agreement with the City of Menlo Park reveals that Facebook, also known as META, could have naming rights. (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is known for naming entities after himself as he did with San Francisco General Hospital.)

Three years later, it appears that Facebook’s view has changed and whether or not the center will carry Harris’ name is in question.

“To rename the center the Facebook or META community center after all my mother’s work and her love for our people would be tragic,” said Ken Harris, Onetta’s son. “My mom’s legacy would be erased. Her love for her community is the reason naming the center after her received unanimous support. We can’t allow these people to cancel us, our legacy and our culture.”

Last week the Menlo Park City Council met to establish name criteria as a prelude to the naming process and proceedings. Comments from the community to determine interest, with few exceptions, favored keeping the name Onetta Harris Community Center.

The final City Council vote will take place in late summer or early fall.

The post Menlo Park Residents Fear Loss of Onetta Harris’ Legacy in Facebook Offer to Overhaul Community Center first appeared on Post News Group. This article originally appeared in Post News Group.


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